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Medical Doctors and Traditional Healers Square Off In Zimbabwe AIDS Fight

Controversy has flared in Zimbabwe as to whether modern medicine or traditional healers offer the best hope for those living with the virus or the disease - especially given the high cost and limited availability of anti-retroviral drug treatments.

Some AIDS activists are urging officials to investigate traditional healers who may be making unfounded claims as to the effectiveness of their treatments against AIDS.

One source in the nongovernmental anti-AIDS community, speaking on condition that he be granted anonymity, said health authorities have tilted too far towards traditional healers, recently empowering them to provide sick-day documentation for workers.

This activist said he knows people living with HIV-AIDS who have halted anti-retroviral treatment in favour of traditional remedies which have not, he said, been proven to reduce HIV viral load - the level of the virus present in the bloodstream .

Doctors also express concern that herbal preparations given to the HIV-positive or to those with AIDS-related illnesses, may not be properly tested or formulated.

Reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe took up the question with Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association President Gordon Chavhunduka and Chitiga Mbanje, information officer for The Center, an HIV-AIDS assistance organisation in Harare. Mbanje said The Center sees traditional medicine as one useful weapon in the country's available anti-AIDS arsenal.

The Zimbabwean government recently announced a decline in the HIV prevalance rate among adult Zimbabweans to around 18%, from 20% previously. But the AIDS toll remains shockingly high: it is estimated that 3,500 Zimbabweans die each week from AIDS-related illnesses and relatively few have access to anti-retroviral drugs.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...