Gogo Thokozile, 67, South Africa

An estimated 5.7 million people in South Africa live with HIV.

Older people are at a high risk of infection and care for children orphaned by AIDS but lack the information they need.   

Gogo Thokozile outside her home.

(c) Zonke Majola/HelpAge International

Gogo Thokozile outside her home.

On a grassy hillside in Tafelkop, rural Durban, sits a white circular hut.

Inside, there are straw mats on the floor and embroidered hangings on the pink-painted walls. One side of the hut is lined with jars, bottles and bowls.

The hut belongs to Gogo (grandmother) and traditional health practitioner Thokozile Mchunu, and it's where she treats the many patients who come to see her.

Thokozile is 67 and has been a traditional health practitioner for more than 30 years. She is a widow with one daughter and five grandchildren.

HIV and AIDS is commonplace

She said: "I am the first wife in a polygamous marriage. My husband had a second wife. When I began practising before the age of 30, we did not experience many sicknesses like now, where HIV and AIDS is commonplace.

"Before we knew of HIV, my patients would come for consultation and I would follow the old traditional way of healing. I would take a razor and make small cuts on my patients' wrists to cure them of bad luck and evil spirits.

"The cuts would bleed and then I would smear my muthi (medicinal herbs) onto them. I would repeat the same process with all other patients using the same razor, without any gloves. Sometimes I didn't even wash my hands between patients.

"When my husband got sick, he got bad wounds on his legs. Doctors suggested he go for a HIV test. They said it was important because he had two wives. It turned out he was diabetic.

Training opened my eyes to the risk of HIV

"I then heard from another healer that [HelpAge's partner] MUSA was giving monthly training sessions to traditional health practitioners. She said I should join them.

"I did, and it really opened my eyes about the risk of contracting HIV from my patients and the possibility of causing new infections. MUSA has taught me to wash my hands before every new consultation, put on the gloves they provide and use one razor per person. They have also given me equipment to measure my medicine and shown me how much I should use.

"Before, I used my finger markings to estimate how strong the muthi should be. I would then adjust the ration if the patient told me the muthi gave them an upset stomach, because it must have been too strong for them.

I learnt to protect myself and my clients

"I learnt how to protect myself and my clients from HIV infections, and I pass on this information to my patients. I tell them to look for symptoms like shingles, pneumonia, mouth sores and immediately go to the clinic for advice - especially those that look after their sick children.

"I enjoy MUSA's training for traditional health practitioners because it's practical. I thank the higher spirits for guiding me towards MUSA. They supplied me with measuring equipment for my patients' muthi and I will now measure my life through the success of all my consultations."

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" MUSA has taught me to wash my hands before every new consultation, put on the gloves they provide and use one razor per person. They have also given me equipment to measure my medicine and shown me how much I should use."

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