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Modernizing medicine
preview of book Modernizing medicine
text of book Modernizing medicine

Modernizing medicine

Publisher: Vanderbilt
Publication Date: 2012
Category: General
Grades: Recommended
Number of Pages: 241
Appropriate for: Upper-division undergraduates and above
Choice rating: 
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About this title

As sub-Saharan Africa continues to confront the runaway epidemic of HIV/AIDS, traditional healers have been tapped as collaborators in prevention and education efforts. The terms of this collaboration, however, are far from settled and continually contested. As Modernizing Medicine in Zimbabwe demonstrates, serious questions continue to linger in the medical community since the explosion of the disease nearly thirty years ago. Are healers obstacles to health development? Do their explanations for the disease disregard biomedical science? Can the worlds of traditional healing and modern medicine coexist and cooperate?

Combining anthropological, historical, and public health perspectives, Modernizing Medicine in Zimbabwe explores the intersection of African healing traditions and Western health development, emphasizing the role of this historical relationship in current debates about HIV/AIDS. Drawing on diverse sources including colonial records, missionary correspondence, international health policy reports, and interviews with traditional healers, anthropologist David S. Simmons demonstrates the remarkable adaptive qualities of these disparate communities as they try to meet the urgent needs of the people.

About author
David S Simmons

David S. Simmons is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior at the University of South Carolina.


Simmons, David S. Modernizing medicine: HIV/AIDS and traditional healers in Zimbabwe. Vanderbilt, 2012. 224p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780826518071. Reviewed in 2012aug CHOICE.

Anthropologist Simmons (Univ. of South Carolina) presents a good overview of traditional healing, healers, and politics in Zimbabwe, more specifically in the context of HIV/AIDS. He focuses on the overall healing strategies of local healers of various kinds, traditionally referred to as n'anga, who founded the African N'anga Association in 1957. In time, they reached for greater centralized access to government recognition, thus, in 1980 they organized themselves into a national body called the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA). The local population accepts and supports these healers for a number of reasons: they serve at the local domestic level; their indigenization of disease (including HIV/AIDS) provides a handle to understand it; the ratio of n'anga to patients is 1:300. At the time of this study, there was a deficit of about 400 doctors and 1,500 nurses. Within this setting, one in five Zimbabweans is living with HIV/AIDS. From the beginning of this pandemic (first diagnosed in Zimbabwe in 1985), ZINATHA cooperated in workshops with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and the University of Zimbabwe. Yet "healers reject, refashion, or accommodate modernity to meet their own needs and the needs of their patients," writes Simmons. This book concentrates on conditions to 1999-2000.

Summing Up: Upper-division undergraduates and above. -- B. M. du Toit, emeritus, University of Florida

Copyright 2013 American Library Association


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