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9829: Some Haitian AIDS patients turning to voodoo (fwd)
Some Haitian AIDS patients turning to voodoo
By MICHAEL NORTON
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (December 1, 2001 01:41 p.m. EST) -
When a seriously ill AIDS patient comes to Philippe Castera,
the voodoo priest consults with the spirits and often tells
the patient to lie in a coffin for 24 hours.
The treatment isn't intended to attack the virus but the
evil spirit believed to be causing the illness. Seeing the
patient, Castera enters a trance, during which he says one
of the spirits possesses him.
"If the spirit makes me slap my right thigh, I can work a
cure. If it is the left thigh, he is incurable," the 49-year-old
As he speaks, he runs a cheese grater across a human skull
to create a powder, which he puts into an elixir for the
patient to drink. The red-and-black coffin is supposed to
help weaken the evil spirit.
Voodoo evolved in the 17th century among African slaves brought
to Haiti. It is often practiced in tandem with Catholicism.
Followers believe in a supreme God and a world of mighty
spirits who link humans with the divine.
With an estimated 5.2 percent of its 8.2 million people infected
with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, Haiti has one of the
highest rates of infection in the Caribbean. Like the country's
mainstream medical community, Haiti's voodoo priests have
had to turn their attention and efforts to treating the disease.
Castera and his wife, voodoo priestess Jeanette Joseph, treat
every ailment from lovesickness to cancer.
"We are not the doctor. The doctor is the spirit," Castera
Every month, about 400 people seek consultations with the
couple. About half say they have AIDS, though the Casteras
do not test for the virus.
A consultation costs about $6.30, while a complete AIDS treatment
can cost up to $4,000.
Patients looking for help slip into the couple's treatment
center - dimly lit rooms decorated with multicolored scarves
and altars strewn with lit candles, sequined bottles of rum
and perfume, swords and rattles.
Later, Castera said they urge patients to visit a Western-trained
doctor because they believe modern medicine also can help.
This year, about $8 million is being put toward fighting
AIDS in Haiti, coming from donors including U.N. agencies,
the United States and the Netherlands.
"The amount allocated to Haiti will probably increase slightly
next year," said Dr. Eddy Genece, director of a Haitian group,
Promoters of Zero-Objective in the Spread of AIDS. "But even
so, the level of assistance will be woefully inadequate."
Current programs are devoted to prevention, focusing largely
on education, distribution of condoms, surveys and some testing.
No drugs are being distributed to the infected and little
care is available.
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