In many South African communities, Traditional Health Practitioners (THPs) are significant participants within a
plural health care system. For several years, it has been argued that this role, especially in the context of HIV/AIDS, has not
been fully optimised and THPs continue to operate outside the formal biomedical sector, where the latter forms the central
means by which public health campaigns are delivered and implemented. In our previous research, we have shown that this
separation of the biomedical and traditional sectors perpetuates a low level of understanding of HIV by THPs with adverse
consequences for patients and the overall health care system. In this study we investigated whether biomedical/traditional
division could be transformed through the involvement of THPs in the distribution of barrier microbicides; the latter are
presently under investigation as a means of preventing HIV infection. We concluded that THPs could provide a willing and
effective distribution network for the gel-based microbicides; given the large number of THPs and their patients, such a
distribution strategy would ensure that microbicides are accessible and adopted relatively quickly within the target
communities of the HIV prevention campaigns.
The author gratefully acknowledges the financial support of LIFElab (now part of the technology Innovation Agency) for the project on the plant extracts and the operational costs of Arvir Technologies (within which company this research was undertaken). The research of Ms Tumi Maitsholo on the practices of THPs in South Africa is also acknowledged.