Untapped Potential:Opportunities for collaboration with traditional health practitioners in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in South Africa

Open Access
Busalacchi, Katherine Irene
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Stephen Augustus Matthews, Thesis Supervisor
  • Timothy Michael Ryan, Honors Advisor
  • South Africa
  • health
  • HIV
  • AIDS
  • traditional medicine
  • Cape Town
South Africa continues to have one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV and AIDS in the world. The high rate of infection, coupled with the fact that many South Africans do not have access to adequate healthcare, has led to a crisis that the government has largely been unable to address. After witnessing this health care crisis firsthand while studying and volunteering in Cape Town, I became interested in alternative methods to address this situation. Fortunately, there exists a largely untapped resource in the fight against HIV and AIDS: traditional healers, also known as sangomas. Many South Africans consult sangomas in conjunction with western healthcare providers or as a primary care provider. Though not able to administer medical treatments in a western sense, sangomas could prove to be invaluable resources for educating the population about HIV and AIDS, especially in regards to prevention and adherence to anti-retroviral therapy regimens. Because they are well respected in their communities and share a culture with the population they are serving, sangomas have a unique opportunity to connect with their patients and make a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This thesis seeks to provide an overview of the complicated role of traditional medicine in modern South Africa, while highlighting programs that have attempted to navigate the divide between traditional and western medicine. Small-scale programs have made great strides toward incorporating traditional healers in HIV prevention and treatment programs in South Africa, but little action has been taking on a national level to increase cooperation. By analyzing the successes and failures of such programs, I hope to contribute to the formation effective versions of these initiatives that can be replicated on a larger scale.