AIDS:"Traditional healers are an untapped resource of great potential"
In a recently published doctoral dissertation at the University of Helsinki, anthropologist Perpetual Crentsil provides 13 recommendations on how to fight AIDS. Crentsil has been on fieldwork among the Akan in the coastal south and forest zone of Ghana:
It seems reasonable to expect that where deaths from AIDS are common, people would be worried and would attempt to prevent infection by abstinence or protecting themselves. However, new infections indicate that campaigns to educate and create more awareness are not having the optimal effect.
The ill effects of the disease necessitate a radical approach, Crentsil writes and suggests among other the following measures:
- Campaign strategies need radical changes in order to portray their urgency in sending strong messages about the seriousness of the disease. Alternative modes of educating people could be adopted, such as the use of traditional or supernatural concepts — ‘bad’ death and non-creation of ancestors.
- There should be more posters and billboards about the disease. Owing to the high level of non-Western education in the rural areas, the posters should be more pictorial than textual. Again, as this study found, the posters seem to be concentrated in the cities and major towns. More need to go to the rural areas too.
- It is important that pharmaceuticals make the medication for HIV/AIDS cheap enough for poor countries; in this way biomedicine would claim more control over other medical systems.
- Traditional healers are an untapped resource of great potential, as I have suggested elsewhere (Crentsil 2002). They could be integrated into the country’s medical system, properly regulated and redefined to provide important outlets for networks dedicated to the campaign against HIV/AIDS in remote areas. After all, the model of the ‘health care system’ is meant to be universally applicable.
- The role of the media is important. (...) My observations in the field were that even in the urban areas where many people have television sets, the majority choose to watch music and drama instead of HIV/AIDS programmes. Although not statistically proven, it is believed that people find HIV/AIDS programmes too boring. Soap operas on HIV/AIDS could be encouraged by the media houses. (...)
- The family needs to reform itself as a socialising unit. Parents should be able to speak against their children’s questionable lifestyles. In this period of risks of infection, the lineage needs to assume its role as what I call an informal ‘health promotion agency’ by conducting thorough investigations of prospective partners for their young members. This, in my opinion, could be a major deterrent to many young people who may be engaging in unhealthy lifestyles.
- I support the churches’ insistence on HIV test before they conduct marriage between couples, if that will make people sit up. I suggest that churches (the spiritualist ones and others) should make issues about the disease a major part of their preaching in worship sessions. (...) I support abstinence by those who are not married (not merely because I am a Catholic). For married couples, being faithful should be a strong message to them. It is only when abstinence and fidelity cannot be practised that people would need to adopt the condom culture.