The CIA World Fact Book says that more than five million South Africans live with HIV/AIDS. That is approximately 17 percent of the country's total population. But that percentage may be even higher in some areas.
"This summer, when I was there (northeastern South Africa) and was talking to the nurses who actually do the tests, they said that over 60 percent of the people that they test come back positive," said Kristina Bishop, an adjunct professor at the UA's School of Geography and Development. "So, we are talking, in some places, well over half the population."
Bishop said that means the situations is "extremely serious." By point of comparison, the World Fact Book reports 1.5 million Americans, or less than one percent of the U.S. population as HIV positive.
According to Bishop, who studies health care practices in South Africa, it became clear in the early 2000s just how badly HIV was impacting the population.
At that time, policy makers, who had long attempted to limit traditional medical practices, sought out traditional healers as part of the solution.
Prior to Apartheid, which lasted from 1948 to 1994, the government passed a series of laws and policies to suppress native practices. With the HIV/AIDS epidemic, they have become to change those policies to include native health care practices, but with oversight.
Each summer, Bishop takes students to South Africa to meet with traditional and western healers, to tour clinics and other facilities, and to help those students understand the different challenges and health care contexts faced by people in other parts of the world.