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profmoodley_edited_biggerKeymanthri Moodley

Background: Africa has a rich and contentious history of HIV cure approaches that range from mythology, cultural beliefs and religion to alternate and traditional medications. This history is set against a backdrop of political ideology, claims of post-colonialism, pluralistic understanding of health and disease and distrust of the pharmaceutical industry. A “strong pan-Africanist and anti-Western discourse” has fuelled a return to the use of traditional medicines in Africa. This latter phenomenon is however, not unique to the African continent. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) hold major support in Asia and several Western countries. The World Health Organization (WHO), in its Beijing Declaration, has supported respect for and development of safe traditional medicines. This paper reviews a brief history of HIV cures and the impact on understanding of HIV cure in contemporary medical research. It also explores the contentious issue of concomitant use of traditional medicines with anti-retrovirals in many African countries.

Discussion: ‘HIV cure’ is an enormously powerful concept that has been strategically harnessed by political leaders in some African countries. South Africa is poised at the epicentre of the HIV pandemic and a wide range of illegitimate cures have been offered to vulnerable patients over the past three decades. Offers of similar fake cures extend beyond South African borders to several other African countries. Some eminent scientists throughout the world have likewise challenged conventional scientific thinking around HIV/AIDS and advanced unconventional theories of disease as well as “cures”. The current discourse on HIV cure is therefore value laden. In the recruitment of research participants for future HIV cure trials considerable efforts will need to be made to engage with communities and potential participants to clarify misperceptions and facilitate understanding of and limits to potential cures.

Summary: This paper explores some of the better known cures documented on the African continent, explores the role of traditional medicines in HIV and argues for investment in community engagement to clarify understanding of HIV cure research in Africa. Given the potential impact of the controversial history of cure in Africa on future HIV research, recruitment of potential research participants could be challenging. It is therefore important to explore the views of research participants and other research stakeholders before embarking on the design and implementation of HIV cure research projects in Africa.

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