Western Medicine Still Not Trusted By Many S. Africans

According to the Washington Post, South African SenzeniTshabalala, a 26-year-old mother of three, is determined not torely on the anti-retroviral drugs western doctors say would mostlikely save her life.  Tshabalala is one of about 5 millionpeople in South Africa affected with HIV, the virus that causesAIDS.

After years of debate and opposition,anti-retroviral drugs have been made available in developingnations. Medical authorities were surprised to find that many SouthAfricans in the advanced stages of AIDS hesitate to take them oronly want treatment when it is no longer helpful.

“I’m an African,” Tshabalalatold the Post.  “I don’t believe inanti-retrovirals.  I believe in traditionalhealers.”

Tshabalala refuses the anti-retroviralmedication due to its known side effects which include nausea,vomiting, diarrhea, headache, tiredness, abdominal pain, peripheralneuropathy and insomnia. She worries that the medication will makeher temporarily manic, as they did to her estranged husband, orwill reshape her figure, as they did to a friend.  Enlargedbreasts, thinned arms and an accumulation of fat at the base of theneck are among the unpleasant side effects experienced by somepeople on anti-retroviral drugs.  Even more common are rashesand severe pain in the feet.

Beyond the fear of side effects, there is alsowidespread skepticism of Western medicine in a culture that hasbeen historically disadvantaged and economically undermined byWesterners.  Twice a week, Tshabalala walks down a dirt pathto visit Annah Radebe, a Zulu healer to drink a clear elixir ofboiled grain and roots. 

More than 100 residents in this hardscrabbletownship south of Johannesburg drink the elixir to treat HIV,Radebe told the Post.  Tshabalala said it cleans the HIVinfection from her blood; the sores on her skin are from the toxinsleaving her body, she said.