AIDS experts seek cultural solutions

Thursday, May 31, 2007 | 12:47 a.m. CDT; updated 2:17 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Faculty and researchers from universities around the U.S. and South Africa exchanged ideas at The Global Partnerships for AIDS Research Symposium on Wednesday at MU.

Eleven lecturers presented topics including the value of traditional healers in Africa and the role of “freedom songs” in combatting the AIDS pandemic. A major focus of the symposium was opening up channels of dialogue among groups that had not been talking.

William Folk, senior associate dean for research in the MU School of Medicine and co-leader of The International Center for Indigenous Phytotherapy Studies, said the symposium was held “to promote collaboration between scientists — both social scientists and medical scientists.”

The symposium was sponsored by the University of Missouri-South Africa Education Program, the international center and the MU School of Medicine and often focused on creative cultural solutions to the AIDS pandemic.

“There needs to be a much greater understanding of the culture in which the pandemic is spreading,” Folk said.

Jim Lees, a lecturer at the Institute for Social Development and HIV/AIDS Programme at the University of Western Cape in South Africa, said technical and biomedical solutions were important but would not be enough.

“Let’s think beyond them,” he said.

The collaboration between the UM System and the South African institution began in 1986, Folk said, when the UM System faced pressure to divest from apartheid businesses in South Africa and instead invest in anti-apartheid institutions.

More than 365 visits between the universities’ faculty members have taken place in the past 21 years.

Kathleen Goggin, co-leader of the international center and associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, discussed her work in South Africa to facilitate conversations between traditional healers and western doctors.

“We need worlds to talk,” she said. “It’s going to be a big, concerted effort to make lots of changes.”

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