Being the light at the end of the tunnel

A Traditional Health Practitioner in South Africa with a patient

Mgazi (sitting on the bench) with Traditional Health Practitioner Gogo Slindile Nhleko (on floor mat) being interviewed by a French visitor

Gogo Slindile Nhleko is a 29-year-old Traditional Health Practitioner who lives at Mabhokisini Reserve, Hlabisa Municipality in South Africa. Slindile had very little knowledge of how to care for people with TB and HIV/AIDS before she was trained by Amref Health Africa, through a project that receives funding from the Government of Canada through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD, formerly CIDA). Slindile is now well equipped with the relevant skills and has acquired much more knowledge through working with affected clients.

One patient she remembers vividly was in September 2011, when Nozipho Mgazi, a 36-year-old woman, consulted her.  Mgazi was experiencing a persistent cough, night sweat, persistent diarrhoea and painful feet.  Slindile referred her to Hlabisa Gateway clinic where she tested positive for TB and was started on treatment.

During that period, Slindile was undergoing her training with Amref Health Africa. Armed with the knowledge she had acquired, she supported Mgazi and, through learning that TB is often related to HIV, counselled Mgazi and encouraged her to take an HIV test. Mgazi tested positive. This revelation was very traumatizing for Mgazi and she suffered stigma making her unwilling to disclose her status to her family.  However, because of the relationship and confidence nurtured by Slindile, she opened up to her. Slindile provided a lot of support and often visited her home to counsel her. She finally convinced Mgazi to disclose her status to her most trusted family member.  She even accompanied Mgazi when she decided to disclose her status to her mother.

Slindile walked the treatment journey with Mgazi and supported her emotionally and was therefore referred to as Mgazi’s ‘treatment supporter’ by the Gateway Clinic staff.

Mgazi’s health has since improved and she has gained so much confidence as a person living with HIV.  She is a healthy 87kg woman and her level of infection-fighting cells has improved to a healthy range.

Slindile says: “I have learnt a lot from Amref Health Africa’s training programme.  I can now counsel, refer, support and treat my clients well.  What I have learnt is that listening is a good remedy for people living with HIV/AIDS.”

Slindile has a good relationship with Gateway Clinic and Hlabisa Hospital where she refers her clients.

Traditional Health Practitioners are an important source of health information in hard-to-reach communities, such as the one where Slindile works. Amref Health Africa works towards the integration of Traditional Health Practitioners into the formal health system to ensure that services reach the most vulnerable in addition to equipping them with adequate knowledge of TB and HIV.