Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

December 1996


Published in AIDS Care 8:6 (December 1996), pp. 683–690. Copyright © 1996 Routledge/Taylor & Francis. Used by permission.


In the absence of a medical cure for AIDS, HIV-infected individuals may seek alternative treatments that are consistent with cultural and social beliefs. This paper examines beliefs about, and use of, folk healing practices by HIV-infected Hispanics receiving care at an HIV/AIDS clinic in inner-city New Jersey. Anonymous individual interviews were conducted with 58 male and 18 female HIV-infected Hispanics aged 23-55, primarily of Puerto Rican origin (61%) or descent (29%). The majority of respondents believed in good and evil spirits (73.7%); among the 56 believers, 48% stated that the spirits had a causal role in their infection, either alone or in conjunction with the AIDS virus. Two thirds of the respondents engaged in folk healing (spiritualism and/or santeria). The main desired outcomes of folk healing included physical relief (44%), spiritual relief (40%), and protection from evil (26%). A number of respondents (n = 9) stated that they hoped to effect a cure by engaging in folk healing. These results indicate that health care professionals treating HIV-positive Hispanics should be aware of the prevalence of folk beliefs and alternative healing practices in this population.