AIDS and traditional healing methods -July 1998

What is worrying is that many Zulu in the local area trust their traditional medicine men more than modern medicine. This would not be a big deal if they were only taking herbal substances that can give them subjective relief. In one widespread treatment method, medicine men use razor blades to cut many small incisions in the skin of HIV-positive people and then rub "medicine" into the resulting wounds. If they use the same razor blade on the next patient, the treatment of one becomes a fatal side effect for the other.

To make matters worse, about half of AIDS patients suffer from pulmonary tuberculosis. Many refuse to take medication out of a lack of understanding that this is really necessary.

Effective treatment is also jeopardised by the superstition that inducing vomiting "cleanses the body". Taking medicines prescribed by doctors thus becomes pointless if they are immediately vomited up again.

Many relatives think they cannot bear the sight of their dying relative and therefore banish him from the family circle.

Worst of all, however, is the widespread rumour that one can fight AIDS through sexual contact with a virgin. Countless rapes of girls, often as young as three years old, are the sad consequence. The suffering of these children through the physical mutilation, the psychological trauma and the transmitted HIV infection is indescribable.

Existing fears cannot be eliminated by threats or punishments. Only extensive education and confidence-building can help.