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Monday, March 15, 1999 Published at 09:04 GMT


Healers and medics combine in Aids war

Around 80% of Aids patients come from Africa

Around three hundred traditional African healers and conventional doctors are meeting this week to put together a strategy to fight Aids.

Africa is the continent most affected by HIV, the virus which causes Aids. It accounts for 63% of HIV cases and more than 80% of people with Aids, according to the UN Aids agency.

In sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that 85% of the population consult traditional healers.

There has been much distrust between the conventional and traditional strands of medicine together, but the aim of the conference in Dakar, Senegal, is to devise a two-pronged onslaught on Aids.

Expensive treatments

Dr Erick Gbodossou, head of the Promotion des medecines traditionelles (PROMETRA) in Senegal, says his organisation brings together traditional and conventional therapies for fighting Aids.

He says traditional healers are well respected in Africa and their remedies can be effective in fighting Aids, particularly where conventional drug treatments are "unadapted, too expensive and inaccessible" to Africans.

He believes Africa should "adapt rather than adopt" Western treatments.

One of the main Aids treatments, AZT, costs around $8,700 per patient per year, which puts it out of reach for most Africans - although drug companies are piloting schemes for lower cost versions of Aids treatments for poorer countries.

Psychological support

Dr Abdel Kader Bacha, coordinator of Enda Tiers-monde, a non-government Aids organisation, says the traditional healers can provide psychological support for people with HIV.

He adds that some traditional remedies have proved effective against conditions such as diarrhoea and anaemia.

A treatment devised in the Democratic Republic of Congo and made from four plants was found to boost white blood cell levels, for example.

This could be important in boosting an HIV patient's immune system, said Dr Bacha, and helping slow the progress of the disease.

Doctors also believe increasing healers' role in fighting Aids will help fight the discrimination against those with the disease.

This can lead to people not seeking confirmation of their HIV status. Only one in 10 of the population in Africa is estimated to know that they are carrying the virus.

Infection rates vary widely across the continent.

Some countries have relatively low levels of HIV infection, but others, such as Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Uganda have been hard hit.

In Zimbabwe, which with Botswana has the highest incidence of Aids, life expectancy is likely to fall from 61 to 39 by the year 2010 because of Aids.

One in four people in the country is HIV positive.

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