Background: In South Africa, traditional health practitioners? (THPs) explanatory frameworks concerning illness aetiologies
are much researched. However there is a gap in the literature on how THPs understand HIV-related opportunistic infections
(OIs), i.e. tuberculosis, candidiasis and herpes zoster. This study aimed to comprehend THPs? understandings of the aforementioned;
to ascertain and better understand the treatment methods used by THPs for HIV and OIs, while also contributing to the documentation
of South African medicinal plants for future conservation.
Methods: The study was conducted in two locations: Strand,
Western Cape where THPs are trained and Mpoza village, Mount Frere, Eastern Cape from where medicinal plants are ordered or
collected. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 53 THPs of whom 36 were diviners (amagrirha: isangoma) and 17 herbalists
(inyanga). THPs were selected through a non-probability ?snowball? method. Data were analysed using a thematic content analysis
approach. An ethnobotanical survey was conducted and plants used to manage HIV and OIs were collected. A complete set of voucher
specimens was deposited at the University of the Western Cape Herbarium for identification. Plant names were checked and updated
with Kew?s online website http://www.theplantlist.org.
Results: THPs conceptualise the aetiology of HIV and OIs at
two related levels. The first involves the immediate manifestation of the illness/condition because of a viral infection in
the blood (HIV), the presence of bacteria in the lungs (tuberculosis), or weakened state of the body making it susceptible
to OIs. The presence of OIs is indicative of the probable presence of HIV. The second level of causation affects the first,
which includes pollution, changes in cultural sexual norms, witchcraft, environmental factors, and lack of adherence to ancestral
rituals. THPs reported using 17 plants belonging to 12 families. Remedies included mixes of up to five plants.
This study explored the THPs? perspectives on HIV and commonly associated OIs and their herbal treatment methods. THPs generally
rely on biomedical diagnosis before treating a client. They also seek guidance from the ancestors for a particular diagnosis,
the plants to use for a specific treatment, when to harvest, and how to administer herbal remedies.