Mozambique: Doctors, Traditional Healers Face Off Over HIV

Recently in Mozambique's capital, Maputo, the Red Cross brought doctors, nurses and counselors together with traditional healers to discuss how the groups could work together to combat HIV/AIDS. The meeting follows years of Red Cross work with traditional healers on safer practices and HIV prevention.

Red Cross facilitator Amelia Macaringue said that because so many people turn to traditional healers, they could make a big difference, especially if they worked more closely with Western-style doctors. "Traditional healers have a huge influence in communities," Macaringue said. "They are popular health care providers for most people, both in rural areas and in the cities."

Nevertheless, Macaringue acknowledged that some traditional practices such as the "purification rite," in which traditional healers recommend unprotected sex after a death in the family, contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The rite involves a male family member having unprotected sex with a female family member. Some healers say if that does not happen, or if a condom is used, the rest of the family will die.

Macaringue said there have been gradual changes to dangerous practices, with more traditional healers adopting and advocating safer rituals. Healer Alice Chauque, who sees about 50 patients a month, said Red Cross training has taught her AIDS is not the result of bewitchment. When she cuts patients, ostensibly to rid them of evil spirits, she wears gloves and asks them to bring their own razor blades. Chauque believes drinking herbs rather than having unprotected sex could be an effective purification ceremony. She said she also now knows when to refer patients to the hospital, and when they should start antiretrovirals.