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International News

Senegal: Africa's New AIDS Alliance

January 12, 2004

Practitioners of modern medicine are joining forces with traditional healers to help fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. In many rural areas of the continent that are out of reach of Western-style medicine, traditional healers wield considerable influence.

"Most people in Africa don't have access to primary health care," said Dr. Virginia Davis Floyd, a visiting scholar in traditional knowledge at Spelman College in Atlanta. "We're not even talking about hospitals. Since we don't have doctors or nurses in many of these places, the only primary provider is the traditional healer."

Floyd is executive director of Prometra USA, the U.S. arm of a Senegal-based organization that has studied and increased awareness of traditional medicine since 1971. The group has 22 chapters worldwide.

Roughly 63-70 percent of the 40 million HIV/AIDS patients worldwide live in sub-Saharan Africa. Floyd advocates multiple roles for traditional healers, from dispensing their homegrown medical knowledge to using their highly respected position to educate communities about HIV/AIDS. She said approximately 85 percent of sub-Saharan Africans get part or all of their health care from traditional healers.

In Senegal, Prometra, funded by the UN Development Program, organized a collaboration between traditional healers and modern medicine. Prometra built traditional healing huts close to public health centers, enabling patients to go from one to the other.

Floyd cautioned that not all healers are genuine and skilled, and that it is important to distinguish between knowledgeable healers and charlatans. She said that although traditional healing is gaining acceptance in the West, for many that stops with acupuncture and herbal remedies.

"It's difficult for people to understand the holistic component of African medicine that is also spiritual and mental. It's outside our Western logic," Floyd said.

Back to other news for January 12, 2004

Adapted from:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
01.07.04; Sheila M. Poole

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More News on HIV/AIDS in Senegal