Malawi to curb fake AIDS healers

The Lancet (Vol 371:9615, March 8, 2008 p. 784) notes that the government of Malawi is working on legislation to prevent traditional and religious healers from deceiving people about AIDS. According to Mary Shaba, a Malawi health official, “when it [the proposed legislation] passes into law, all traditional healers claiming to cure AIDS will be dealt with…. The Act will regulate and protect people from healers who prescribe sex with albinos, the disabled or virgins as a cure for HIV and AIDS.”

According to the WHO, the HIV rate of about 14% in Malawi has helped reduce life-expectancy to 36 years.

Health officials say that traditional healers were involved in the drafting of the legislation.

This is huge. Really. If it works. There is so much bullshit out there about AIDS. The U.S. is full of HIV denialists, and their idiocy spreads to where it can do the most harm—Africa. Top African leaders, such as Thabo Mbeki have fallen prey to the denialists.

And let’s make no mistake—the “intellectual” home of HIV denialism is the U.S. where the impact is nothing near what it is in Africa. When folks like Peter Deusberg and Henry Bauer (post to follow) spread their nonsense and lies in North America, people have access to all manner of information resources and doctors. Not so much in Africa. If an African leader gets taken in, it can affect policy and have immediate repercussions.

While the fight against AIDS usually focuses (properly) on prevention and treatment, getting rid of the woos isn’t such a bad idea, and working to co-opt traditional healers is a great idea. The traditional healers could be a potentially powerful force in combating AIDS. The faith-healing churches are another problem altogether.