Original Research

The effects of traditional healing on HIV and AIDS management: An ethnographic study

Avhatakali A. Ndou-Mammbona
South African Family Practice | Vol 64, No 1 : Part 3| a5559 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/safp.v64i1.5559 | © 2022 Avhatakali A. Ndou-Mammbona | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 April 2022 | Published: 19 August 2022

About the author(s)

Avhatakali A. Ndou-Mammbona, Department of Health Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: This article presents the effects of traditional healing on the management of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the Vhembe district, South Africa. The Vhembe district is one of the rural districts in Limpopo Province, South Africa, in which traditional healers are used as the first point of consultation for most ailments, regardless of their causes.

Methods: This ethnographic study was based on Leininger’s theory of culture care diversity and universality. It was carried out in selected villages in the Vhembe district. Observation and interviews with 15 purposively selected key informants, who are traditional healers, were used to collect data. Interviews were tape-recorded and field notes were also taken. The data were analysed using the ethnographic content analysis method.

Results: The results suggest that traditional healing has both negative and positive effects on HIV and AIDS management. The positive effects are the effective treatment of some opportunistic infections, such as diarrhoea, skin lesions and childhood diseases. Negative effects, however, include incisions to let the ‘dirty blood flow out’ and inducing of vomiting and diarrhoea, which may lead to anaemia, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Some traditional healers are of the view that HIV does not exist and that people either have an ancestral calling or are bewitched. Even though their claims have not been scientifically proven, some traditional healers stated that they can heal HIV and AIDS.

Conclusion: The research brings insight as to whether Vhavenda traditional healing has a favourable or unfavourable impact on HIV and AIDS management. Using Leininger’s steps for adaptation for culture care diversity and universality will help with re-Africanisation of HIV management. The researcher recommend the modification of practices with a high risk of HIV infection to reduce this risk, whilst also supporting the continuation of beneficial practices that reduce HIV mortality, such as diarrhoea management.



culture; ethnography; healing; impact; management; traditional healer


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