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January 2021 edition

The correct HIV treatment is essential

Written by: Dale Hes

While traditional healers play an important role in people’s physical and spiritual well-being, it is vital that people with HIV and AIDS get the right treatment to improve their quality of life.  

Government has invested billions into developing one of the biggest HIV and AIDS treatment programmes in the world, with hospitals and clinics around the country offering safe, free antiretroviral therapy  (ART) that has proven effective in managing HIV and extending a patient’s life. 

Seek treatment early

Dr Thembelihle Zuma from the Africa Health Research Institute, says many people are reluctant to approach clinics and hospitals for testing and treatment of HIV, preferring to visit traditional health practitioners.

“While large numbers of people are being initiated on ART, several research studies have found that the use of traditional health practitioners continues to delay individuals from timeously obtaining and remaining in care. This leads to poorer health outcomes,” she says.

Dr Zuma says that if traditional healers see patients who have HIV symptoms, they are legally obliged to refer them to a hospital for testing. 

“Despite the health regulation, healers acknowledge that they might unknowingly treat HIV if a patient lies about their status or refuses to test.”

Traditional medicine and ART

While patients should be placed on appropriate antiretroviral medication, traditional healers can play an important support role.

“If trained and effectively engaged, traditional healers can help increase early diagnosis and therapy uptake, with prompt referrals, adherence support and avoidance of herb-drug interactions, ultimately improving health outcomes for people with HIV,” says Sizzy Ngobeni, a field researcher with experience in traditional healership, from the Wits School of Public Health. 

She adds that it is important for patients to approach traditional healers who have been trained in HIV and AIDS.

Lesley Gittings, an associate researcher at the University of Cape Town’s AIDS and Society Research Unit, says that traditional medicine practitioners can work hand-in-hand with the public and private health sectors. 

She explains that evidence suggests that combining traditional and biomedical healing can provide patients with more effective and holistic healthcare.