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Traditional healers use of personal protective equipment: A qualitative study in rural South Africa

Audet, C.M.
Aliyu, M.H.
Sack, D.E.
Clemens, E.M.
Gobbo, E.
Ngobeni, S.
Mkansi, M.
Wagner, R.G.
Background: Traditional healers are frequently exposed to hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) through the widespread practice of traditional "injections", in which the healer performs dozens of subcutaneous incisions using a razor blade to rub herbs directly into bloodied tissue. An average healer in Agincourt, a rural northeastern sub-district in Mpumalanga province, South Africa, experiences approximately 1500 occupational blood exposures over the course of their lifetime. Healers in Agincourt have an HIV prevalence of 30% compared to 19% in the general population, and healers who report exposure to patient blood have an adjusted 2.4-fold higher odds of being HIV-positive than those with no exposure. Although research on appropriate PPE use has been well documented for allopathic care providers, little is known about the practices of traditional healers. Methods: This qualitative study was conducted with 30 traditional healers who practice in the rural Bushbuckridge sub-district of Mpumalanga province, northeastern South Africa. We elicited traditional healer attitudes towards glove use during traditional treatments - including patient baths, injections, or other treatments that exposed healers to patient blood or open sores. Results: While 90% of healers reported using latex gloves during some treatments, the majority do not use them regularly. Most employ a combination of gloves, plastic shopping bags, bread bags, paper, and sticks to prevent blood exposure. Healers reported plastic bags slipping or breaking during procedures, exposing them to patient blood. Only three healers consistently used gloves, regardless of the cost. Conclusions: Inadequate PPE use and high HIV prevalence make traditional healers particularly susceptible to contracting HIV in rural South Africa. Despite positive attitudes, consistent glove use remains low due to financial constraints and glove availability. Addressing issues of accessibility and cost of gloves for traditional healers could have a significant impact on the adherence to PPE and, in turn, reduce new HIV infections among this high-risk group.
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Blood exposure,Personal protective equipment,South Africa,Traditional healers.,HIV/AIDS
Audet CM, Gobbo E, Sack DE, Clemens EM, Ngobeni S, Mkansi M, Aliyu MH, Wagner RG. Traditional healers use of personal protective equipment: a qualitative study in rural South Africa. BMC Health Serv Res. 2020 Jul 15;20(1):655. doi: 10.1186/s12913-020-05515-9.
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