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HIV fight bolstered by traditional healers’ help

A Wits University research initiative is enabling traditional healers to conduct HIV testing and to refer HIV positive patients for treatment, the project helping to curb new infections and providing a rare opportunity for such practitioners to work closely with healthcare workers.

Known as Ntirhisano (Tsonga for “working together”), it’s the brainchild of the MRC/Wits Agincourt Research Unit, in collaboration with the Department of Health and the NGO Right to Care.

About 400 people have been tested since launch in March with 15 traditional healers, reports TimesLIVE.

Dr Ryan Wagner, senior research fellow at the MRC/Wits Agincourt Research Unit who leads the programme, said one of the objectives was to “strengthen the referral system”.

“To expand coverage and increase uptake of HIV testing, and contribute to ending new HIV cases, we must embrace innovative approaches, like traditional healer-initiated HIV counselling and testing.”

The initiative forms part of research that began almost a decade ago. It focuses on the role of traditional healers in healthcare delivery to determine whether they can conduct HIV counselling and testing, and work with biomedical healthcare workers to help link patients to HIV/Aids diagnosis and care.

Wagner said those who have tested positive have been referred to health facilities for treatment and several “are now initiated on antiretroviral therapy”.

The healers’ training also focuses on patient confidentiality, as a perceived lack thereof is among reasons people are reluctant to test.

“The potential impact of this work is huge. In the long term, we would be thrilled to see (it) expanded to other areas,” said Wagner.

“The next step for us and the work we are doing in Bushbuckridge is about expanding to more healers and understanding the impact (they) can have. Our work has shown it is possible and acceptable.”

Wagner said Ugandan researchers are also exploring the role of traditional healers in the fight against HIV.

A pilot project by US-based Weill Cornell Medicine and Uganda’s Mbarara University to deliver point-of-care HIV tests to people in rural Uganda quadrupled testing rates, showing a 100% increase among study participants compared with standard referrals to HIV clinics, which increased by only 23%.

Researchers said the healer-delivered HIV testing model has the potential to “significantly improve the uptake of HIV testing among hard-to-reach populations … as well as improve rates of linkage to HIV care”.

 

TimesLIVE PressReader article – Traditional healers join war on HIV (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Govt and NGO campaign to teach traditional healers HIV/Aids testing

 

Involving Uganda’s traditional healers improved HIV testing and care

 

Campaign to teach traditional healers how to conduct HIV/Aids tests

 

 

 

 

 

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