/ 4 March 2008

Malawi seeks to oust fake Aids healers

Malawi lawmakers on Tuesday began examining draft legislation aimed at ridding the HIV/Aids-plagued country of quacks claiming to cure the pandemic through such remedies as sex with virgins, health authorities said.

“When it passes into law, all traditional healers claiming to cure Aids will be dealt with,” Mary Shaba, head of HIV/Aids issues for Malawi’s Health Ministry, told a parliamentary committee asked to provide input to the measure before it is submitted to the full 193-member Parliament later this year.

“The Act will regulate and protect people from healers who prescribe sex with albinos, the disabled or virgins as a cure for HIV and Aids,” she said of the Bill drafted in collaboration with traditional Malawi healers and the World Health Organisation.

Shaba did not specify possible sanctions against bogus healing claims for a virus that has devastated this Southern African country, infecting more than one in 10 people.

But under the draft legislation, the country’s 30 000 traditional healers — many of whom operate in towns and villages where hospitals are few and far between — would be required to register with a board set up by the Health Ministry.

Besides direct solicitation by healers, newspaper and radio advertisements for Aids cures are also common in Malawi.

Last year, a United Nations-funded study found that about 60% of people aged between 15 and 49 lacked knowledge about HIV prevention.

Fourteen percent of Malawi’s population of 12-million is infected with HIV, which causes Aids, according to official figures, and there are about 78 000 Aids-related deaths and 100 000 new infections every year. — AFP