African Healers Join the AIDS Fight
July 2, 2003
In a hut in Matoh, Cameroon, U.S. medical student Joseph Becker asked a group of traditional healers: "Where does AIDS come from?" "Through sex," said one. "Through razor blades," said another. Some used to think AIDS was a punishment meted out by God, part of a CIA conspiracy, or spread by a fearsome dog.Adapted from:
"I think they have incorporated the basics," said Becker, who for two years has split his time between Cameroon and San Francisco, where he recently completed medical school at the University of California. "That group is particularly savvy and well-organized."
To Western medical workers like Becker, traditional African healers -- tribal elders who use natural remedies in their medical practice -- have become indispensable in the fight against AIDS in Cameroon and around Africa. The respect that healers garner from their communities makes them a key mouthpiece for passing along accurate information about how HIV is spread.
Even the Bush administration has taken notice, albeit cautiously. The fact sheet on Bush's recent $15 billion Global AIDS pledge, signed into law last month, includes using traditional healers "trained in standard clinical evaluations and distribution of medication pack refills," to disseminate aid and advice in rural areas.
Critics, however, say that traditional doctors will treat patients' symptoms without addressing the cause, leading patients to believe they are being cured. "Our traditional doctors will never say they cannot treat a disease," said Dr. Peter Enyong, who runs the Tropical Medicine Research Station in Kumba. "That is the first problem we have with them."
"It's kind of disquieting to know that when you send these people on their way, you really don't know what is being accomplished at the end of the day," Becker said. Yet he understands that for the time being, healers are his best choice for spreading the prevention message.
Christian Science Monitor
06.30.03; Andreas Tzortzis
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.