Guinea-Bissau Ritual Believed To Prevent Spread Of HIV

Armen Hareyan's picture

IRIN/PlusNews recently examined a ritual, knownas tarbessadu, performed by traditional healers in Guinea-Bissau that many people inthe country believe can prevent a woman who has given birth from contractingHIV. According to IRIN/PlusNews, traditional healers use a pig,half a sack of rice, black corn and five liters of sugarcane brandy to performtarbessadu. Some say if a pregnant woman does not go through the ritual, shewill contract HIV and transmit it to her male partner.

Tarbessadu is practiced primarily by the Balanta ethnic group, which accountsfor about 20% of the country's 1.4 million residents, according to Ali Hizaziof the Italian nongovernmental organization Ceu e Terra, which works withpregnant HIV-positive women. Hizazi said that rituals, such as tarbessadu, areimportant to the people in Guinea-Bissaubecause little is known about HIV. The country's HIV prevalence is about 4%, IRIN/PlusNewsreports. According to a 2006 survey, one-third of people in Guinea-Bissaubelieve HIV/AIDS depends on the will of God.


"People don't accept AIDS as a disease, so they attribute it to somethingwomen failed to do, or did wrong, and for which they are being punished,"Hizazi said, adding, "Blame is internalized because the man just doesn'taccept this responsibility. He thinks that the woman's promiscuity is what hasled him to be punished by God by becoming infected." The 2006 survey alsofound that most Guineans would end a relationship if their partner testedpositive for HIV, which makes many pregnant women reluctant to be tested,according to IRIN/PlusNews.

In addition, there are only two health care facilities in the country thatoffer services to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, IRIN/PlusNewsreports. Paulo Mendes -- president of the National Secretariat for the FightAgainst AIDS, or SNLS -- said, "It's hard for us to plan prophylactictreatment against mother-to-child transmission in a regular manner, due to thehardships we face in terms of human, financial and material resources." Italso is difficult to closely monitor women and infants for up to 18 monthsafter delivery, according to IRIN/PlusNews. Ceu e Terra was ableto monitor about 800 infants between 2002 and 2006 in Guinea-Bissau,which was less than 50% of the infants born to HIV-positive women during thattime period. "Many mothers either become desperate, turn to alternativemedicine or simply fail to comprehend the gravity of the situation," OscarBasisio, president of Ceu e Terra, said.

Additional data from SNLS found that 75% of the 4,124 pregnant women whoreceived information on HIV testing during prenatal visits in the first half oflast year agreed to be tested for the virus. The tests results showed that 217of the women were HIV-positive and that 42% of their partners agreed to betested (IRIN/PlusNews, 1/28).

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