Biomedical healthcare and African traditional healing in the management of HIV and AIDS: complimentary or competing cosmologies?

Published in: African Journal of AIDS Research
Volume 18, issue 2, 2019 , pages: 104–114
DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2019.1619600
Author(s): Elvis MenduDepartment of Social Work, South Africa, Eleanor RossCentre for Social Development in Africa, South Africa


In South Africa, African traditional healers and biomedical practitioners play important roles in the management of HIV and AIDS, but provide healthcare services in isolation of each other, despite legislative recognition of both types of healing. An interpretive, qualitative research approach was employed to elicit the views of both groups regarding the feasibility of collaboration. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of 20 participants with 10 persons from each group. Key findings were that African traditional healers referred their patients to hospitals but never received referrals from biomedical health care practitioners. The traditional healers took precautions to avoid drug interactions between their medicines and antiretrovirals (ARVs). Biomedical healthcare practitioners recommended that traditional medicine only be used externally to avoid interaction with ARVs. Lack of shared knowledge, poor dosages and medical complications due to the use of African traditional medicine were viewed as threats to the collaboration between the two groups, while open communication, research into the efficacy, scientific administration and proper dosages of African traditional medicine were articulated as facilitating factors. The main conclusion was that biomedical practitioners, traditional healers and government officials responsible for formulating healthcare policies need to be involved in devising a framework that would facilitate ways of encouraging collaboration between these two healthcare systems.

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