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"Traditional healers didn't want to mix with doctors because they believe doctors will steal their knowledge of medicinal plants," says Elliot Makhathini, a liaison between healers and doctors at Edendale. "And there was a prejudice due to history. Healers were stigmatized, I think, for political and economic reasons," he tells the Pitch by phone from South Africa.
For Folk's project, patients needed to be more willing to work with the Western-trained researchers administering the tests, and healers needed to be more forthcoming about how they used sutherlandia and what responses they saw in AIDS patients.
"We don't need them to change. We need them to meet each other," Goggin says. "Most Africans will never make it to Western medicine without traditional healers, and we will lose the benefits of traditional healing if we don't make the two worlds talk."
Africans need Western medicine. The rate of HIV infection in Africa is the highest in the world. Some Africans believe they can cure themselves by having sex with a virgin. The president of one West African country, Gambia, has held press conferences to claim that he can cure AIDS by massaging an herbal paste into sick people and ordering them to eat bananas.
Goggin's first meeting with traditional healers was at one of their clinics. Each woman wore a colorful head wrap to signify her station. Goggin questioned them on how they measured quality of life. Did it mean anything if a patient wasn't sleeping well? What was a happy life? Did they recognize depression as a disorder? If they did, did they treat it? How?
Without understanding how they measured happiness, it would be impossible to understand how sutherlandia was affecting the depression that accompanies HIV infections. And without the healers backing the study and approving its methods, South Africans would never accept its findings.
For nine hours, the healers tried to translate the African concept of quality of life for Goggin.
"In Zulu, the first three words of a sentence modify the next word, which can be changed by the last three. So when you ask a question, it can be a nightmare," Goggin says. "And when you're asking questions like 'Is this a little? Is this not at all?' those are very hard things for them to qualify."
At the beginning, the healers had been proper and professional with Goggin. But toward the end of the session, the two women raised their voices. Though they were still speaking in Zulu, Goggin recognized the tension. She realized they were arguing over how to measure depression. It was a relief.
"I knew I was in," she says. "In this culture, you don't argue in front of someone if they're an outsider."
That you can get rid of AIDS by taking a virgin wasn't the first bizarre idea that Goggin had heard. She was 16 years old, living in Southern California in 1983, when newspapers started covering a strange new virus. Back then, some leaders wanted to quarantine all the cases on a small Hawaiian island.
The Goggins were a middle-class family. By the sixth grade, she was almost 6 feet tall, a good basketball player without many friends.