In many countries throughout the world belief in witches is common, and black magic is considered part of everyday life. A 2010 poll of 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa found that over half of the population believe in magic. Witch doctors are consulted not only for healing diseases, but also for placing, or removing, curses or bringing luck.
One human rights activist in the small African country of Malawi, Seodi White, has been fighting for years to stem many traditional beliefs that help spread HIV, especially among poor and underprivileged women.
According to a CNN story, widows in some parts of southern Africa are expected to engage in unprotected sex in order to "cleanse" them. The belief is that the husband's spirit will return otherwise, cursing the family.
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"It's a mindset issue," White told CNN. "Even the widows, they've told me, ‘I don't want to die, I don't want a curse to come to my husband.' They cry to be cleansed."
Because this spiritual cleansing involves unprotected sex - just as sex with the deceased husband was assumed to have been - the widows are placed at increased risk of contracting HIV, which is endemic on the continent. There are even professional "cleansers" who charge high prices for their services, which the widows are often eager to pay to avoid a curse on their families.