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VUMC investigator expands HIV research into South Africa

Feb. 18, 2021, 9:07 AM


by Jake Lowary

A Vanderbilt University Medical Center investigator is hoping to improve access to HIV testing in South Africa, where more than 7 million people are known to have the virus, by training traditional healers to perform the tests.

Carolyn Audet, PhD

Carolyn Audet, PhD, assistant professor of Health Policy in the Department of Health Policy and Institute for Global Health, has partnered with Ryan Wagner, PhD, a research fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, to develop a novel HIV testing strategy for individuals living in rural communities.

“Historically, it has been very difficult to reach certain populations about HIV testing and treatment in South Africa,” Audet said. “HIV testing in South Africa has been undermined by distrust of modern health care systems, the preference for traditional healers and stigma about the virus,”

Millions of South Africans rely on traditional healers for health care, and many do not believe in science-based or allopathic medicine. The study will test the feasibility of training and employing traditional healers to deliver HIV counseling and testing in the community.

Audet hopes the project will improve acceptability of HIV testing, de-stigmatize allopathic testing and treatment and create a system where traditional healers can formally link patients with the health system.

“With more than 200,000 traditional healers in South Africa, we have a ready-made workforce that already provides health care services to people who are skeptical of allopathic medicine,” she said. “We’ve been able to partner with healers elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa and believe we can create this type of framework to address access to HIV testing and treatment in South Africa.”

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