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Stopping HIV/AIDS in Africa

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In Ghana there are few orthodox medical practitioners and many traditional healers. By some estimates for every orthodox medical partitioner there are 200,000 people and for every traditional healer there are 200 people. Ghana's first President Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah strongly supported and facilitated government policy for the dominant role of traditional healers in Ghanaian society. Traditional healers consequently flourish and the population has benefited.

HIV and AIDS have decimated many African communities and the scourge continues to expand. Former US President William Clinton's foundation, William Gates' foundation and the United States government have pumped money into Africa to reduce the cost of drugs so that more people might benefit from medicines that have extended life. The problem is that to get medicines to people the orthodox medical practitioners need to have access to the people and except in mostly metropolitan areas they do not. Traditional healers are those who have greatest access to the larger parts of African populations.

Here is the problem: most orthodox medical practitioners don't trust traditional healers and visa versa. Unless they work together, reaching the vast numbers throughout sub-Saharan Africa in particular will be very unlikely. No matter how much money comes to Africa to treat HIV and AIDS those numbers will not be reached. Traditional healers have access to the population, but they are not included in the strategy to meet the treatment and prevention needs of the population. In the case of HIV and AIDS prevention is the most important medicine. Cooperation between orthodox medical practitioners and traditional healers is therefore essential if HIV and AIDS are to be defeated.

Africa First. LLC in Minnesota is headed by William Donquah originally from Ghana. He is spearheading an effort to bring orthodox medical practitioners and traditional healers together to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS. The Center for World Indigenous Studies joined Dr. Donquah, UN AIDS and the Ghanaian Government in this monumental struggle by cohosting an international Conference on HIV and AIDS, Traditional Medicine and Traditional Knowledge in Accra, Ghana in March of 2005. The result of that conference was a Declaration that urged collaboration between orthodox medical practitioners and traditional healers. The Declaration was carried to the United Nations and sent out across the world.

Recognizing the key importance of collaboration, the Conference indicated that this approach could prevent more HIV and AIDS as a result of a simple agreement between orthodox medical practitioners and traditional healers.

This, as it turned out, is not so easy a proposition to accomplish. The hostility by orthodox medical practitioners toward traditional healers is a major obstacle.

The Center for World Indigenous Studies has agreed to collaborate for a second international conference in March 2008. By this means organizers hope to create a more acceptable climate for cooperation to firmly prevent the horrific spread of HIV and AIDS. Perhaps now we can further encourage a simple agreement to work together to respond to Africa and to others in the world where HIV and AIDS have such a dramatic affect on peoples' lives. Traditional healers are a key element that must become a part of the global strategy. They have the trust and confidence of the vast numbers of peoples in the world. Traditional healers must become a full partner in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

(C) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies

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