Audet Presented on HIV Transmission among Traditional Healers in South Africa at AIDS 2018

August 15, 2018

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Carolyn Audet, Ph.D.

VIGH faculty member, Carolyn Audet, Ph.D., recently attended the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and presented her abstract on traditional healers' increased risk of HIV infection due to a common treatment practice that involves rubbing herbs into small cuts on a patient’s body called “injections." It is believed this treatment increases its efficacy. This practice exposes healers' unprotected skin and leaves them at risk of HIV infection.

Dr. Audet is the lead author of the abstract, “Occupational hazards of traditional healers in rural South Africa: bloodborne pathogen exposures and risk of HIV transmission." Accordingto this new study healers with a history of occupational blood exposure had an HIV prevalence of 61.5% versus 22.7% among those who had no history of blood exposure.

The study was conducted to determine whether healers are experiencing blood exposure on unprotected skin, or if there is an increased risk of HIV infection associated with these exposures. 

In rural Mpumalanga Province, South Africa, 44% of healers claimed to actively participate in these treatments, and the risk of HIV infection due to a single exposure to unbroken skin is low. However, risk of repeated exposure to patient blood by traditional healers had not been studied.

Among traditional healers in rural South Africa, occupational blood exposure was significantly associated with testing HIV+. Interventions to educate traditional healers on the risk of blood exposure and provide appropriate personal protective equipment are urgently required to prevent HIV acquisition amongst this neglected high risk group.

This study was supported, in part, by a career development award from NIHM (K01; PI: Audet). Additional funding was received by the School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (PI: Wagner) and Vanderbilt University (PI: Aliyu). The MRC/Wits Agincourt Research Unit is funded by key contributions from the South African Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.

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