February 2, 2021

A Vanderbilt University Medical Center researcher is hoping a new grant will assess the ability to train traditional healers to perform HIV tests to expand access in South Africa, where more than 7 million people are known to have HIV.carolyn audet in swaziland

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 those living in rural communities.

“Historically, it has been very difficult to reach certain populations about HIV testing and treatment in South Africa. 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.” Audet said.

Millions of South Africans use traditional healers for health care, and many do not believe in allopathic medicine. This new grant, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, will test the feasibility of training and employing traditional healers to deliver HIV counseling and testing in the community.

Audet hopes the grant 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 provide health care services to people who are skeptical of allopathic medicine. 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,” Audet said.

If this grant is successful, Audet plans to write a larger grant to scale up the program across South Africa.