When Philimon Banda fell ill last year in his small village on the edge of Lake Mweru in northern Zambia, he went to 15 local witchdoctors who all told him he had been possessed. One said he had a snake in his body drinking his blood, another that he had been inhabited by a ghost, a third that he had been bewitched by jealous neighbours.

They took his money, washed his evil spirits away, exorcised him and gave him roots and powders. But he got progressively weaker until, he said, by early this year he could not even walk.

Five months ago Mr Banda was tested positive for HIV by Médecins sans Frontières and put on antiretroviral drugs, which have saved his life. He is now strong enough to work and angry with the healers. "It was very wrong of them to promise they could cure me," he said.

But the power of traditional healers in northern Zambia, where up to 25% of the population is HIV-infected, is enormous. People go to them first and treatment can be fatally delayed - something that bothers the witchdoctors, too.

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Zambia struggles with power of witchdoctors


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