Use of traditional medicine among pregnant women in Lusaka, Zambia

J Altern Complement Med. Jan-Feb 2007;13(1):123-7. doi: 10.1089/acm.2006.6225.


Objective: We studied the prevalence of and predictors for traditional medicine use among pregnant women seeking care in the Lusaka, Zambia public health system.

Subjects: We surveyed 1128 pregnant women enrolled in a clinical trial of perinatal human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention strategies at two district delivery centers.

Outcome measures: Postpartum questionnaires were administered to determine demographic characteristics, behavioral characteristics, HIV knowledge, and prior use of traditional medicines.

Results: Of the 1128 women enrolled, 335 (30%) reported visiting a traditional healer in the past; 237 (21%) reported using a traditional healer during the current pregnancy. Overall, 54% believed that admitting to a visit to a traditional healer would result in worse medical care. When women who had used traditional medicines were compared to those who had not, no demographic differences were noted. However, women who reported use of traditional medicine were more likely to drink alcohol during pregnancy, have >or=2 sex partners, engage in "dry sex," initiate sex with their partner, report a previously treated sexually transmitted disease, and use contraception (all p < 0.01). HIV-infected women who reported using traditional healers were also less likely to adhere to a proven medical regimen to reduce HIV transmission to their infant (25% versus 50%, p = 0.048).

Conclusions: Use of traditional medicine during pregnancy is common, stigmatized, and may be associated with nonadherence to antiretroviral regimens. Health care providers must open lines of communication with traditional healers and with pregnant women themselves to maximize program success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Maternal Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Medicine, African Traditional*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Prevalence
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Zambia / epidemiology