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Open Access Research article

Evaluating traditional healers knowledge and practices related to HIV testing and treatment in South Africa

Gavin George1*, Ethel Chitindingu1 and Jeff Gow12

Author affiliations

1 Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division (HEARD), University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

2 School of Commerce, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia

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Citation and License

BMC International Health and Human Rights 2013, 13:45  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-13-45

Published: 23 October 2013



In a context of inadequate human resources for health, this study investigated whether traditional healers have the knowledge and skill base which could be utilised to assist in the scaling up of HIV prevention and treatment services in South Africa.


Using a cross-sectional research design a total of 186 traditional healers from the Northern Cape province were interviewed. Responses on the following topics were obtained: socio-demographic characteristics; HIV training, experience and practices; and knowledge of HIV transmission, prevention and symptoms. Descriptive statistics and chi square tests were used to analyse the responses.


Traditional healers’ knowledge of HIV and AIDS was not as high as expected. Less than 50% of both trained and untrained traditional healers would treat a person they suspected of being HIV positive. However, a total of 167 (89%) respondents agreed using a condom can prevent HIV and a majority of respondents also agreed that having one sexual partner (127, 68.8%) and abstaining from sex can prevent HIV (145, 78.8%). Knowledge of treatment practices was better with statistically significant results being obtained.


The results indicate that traditional healers could be used for prevention as well as referring HIV positive individuals for treatment. Traditional healers were enthusiastic about the possibility of collaborating with bio-medical practitioners in the prevention and care of HIV and AIDS patients. This is significant considering they already service the health needs of a large percentage of the South African population. However, further development of training programmes and materials for them on HIV and AIDS related issues would seem necessary.

Traditional healers; HIV and AIDS; HIV knowledge; South Africa