Tackling HIV: Training traditional healers in South Africa

Our South Africa project teaches HIV prevention to traditional health practitioners, who are often the first source of information and treatment for older people and their families.

The role of traditional healers in tackling HIV

Traditional healers in South Africa are trained in HIV prevention Traditional health practitioners in Kwa-Zulu Natal at an HIV training Caroline Graham/HelpAge International Traditional health practitioners (also known as traditional healers) are an important source of health information for older people all over Africa.

Most older people get health services from them as they feel they have a better understanding of their health problems. 

But traditional healers often lack adequate knowledge and information on HIV and AIDS.

This is because they are often excluded from training sessions on HIV, putting themselves and their clients at risk.

Spreading the right information about HIV

With our affiliate Muthande Society for the Aged (MUSA), we are working in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, where there are more than 1,000 traditional health practitioners.

These health practitioners attend workshops where they learn how HIV is spread, how to prevent transmission between health practitioner and client, how to provide emotional support and when to refer clients to other health facilities.

Project aims

  • To improve the availability of HIV and AIDS information and care services to older people in six communities in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
  • To train 1,125 traditional health practitioners in quality HIV and AIDS-related care.
  • To develop a "code of conduct" with traditional health practitioners which they voluntarily adopt.

John: Learning about HIV prevention was a wake-up call

Traditional healer John Mabasa Traditional healer John Mabasa says his training was a wake-up call (c) Caroline Graham/HelpAge International John Mabasa is a 57-year-old traditional healer who receives regular training in HIV prevention. He is a father of two sons.

He said: "In my family we speak openly about HIV and AIDS. As a traditional healer, and a certified pastor, I see many patients who are scared to go to the clinics as they fear the public stigma.

"Many find it easier consulting a traditional practitioner because of privacy and the fact that I respect my patients' rights.

"As much as they have rights, I also have a right to protection and not infect myself. Since we move with the times, protecting myself, my family and my patients at a time where HIV knows no boundaries, it is important to inform my patients, guide them, as well as use preventative measures when treating them.

"Before HIV came to be known, I would attend to my patients one after another, without washing my hands in between.

"Those that needed ukugcaba (cut and smear medicine), I would take an old razor that I have previously used to my other patients. I would use just one razor at one go for the entire family.

"Now these days such practices are highly dangerous and that message is spread by MUSA.

"This information and transparency was very important for me and a wake-up call which made me even more eager to also attend MUSA's monthly training.

"I wanted to arm myself with more information so in turn I would assist all my patients and even the church members in my church.

"After receiving training, I realized how many of my patients were in denial of HIV's existence.

"Training has helped me a lot. I have learnt I must wash my hands before I attend to my patient, that I must always put gloves. I have also learned to sterilize my equipment and label my muthi bottles properly, to have separate coloured labels for drinking medicine and chatha (non drinking) medicine.

"Nowadays, I even offer condoms, at a small fee, to my patients who come with sexually transmitted diseases, to protect themselves and their partners while taking treatment from me.

"I feel very much empowered and confident in helping all my patients and can now go to any length in helping them make informed decisions."

See our South Africa HIV project in action in this short film

Useful links

Read more on our HIV and AIDS policy work.

What we're doing to alleviate the impact of HIV and AIDS in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

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