The public sector strike has had the unintended consequence of increasing business for traditional healers who have seen an unprecedented rise in demand for their services while public health facilities are not functioning.
Swaziland's health ministry has begun enlisting traditional healers in efforts to contain HIV and assist patients with AIDS-related illnesses. We are a little behind the curve in getting the 'tinyanga' (traditional medicine men and women) on board, but by now the medical establishment agrees that these healers can be enormously helpful because they have such close ties with the community, Dr John Kunene, principal secretary at the Ministry of Health, told PlusNews. A World Health Organisation survey in the 1990s found that a majority of Swazis use traditional healers as their primary source of health care, despite a growing network of health clinics and private physicians. Understaffed and lacking in resources and medicines, health clinics cannot devote the time to individual patients that traditional healers, working from home, can provide. Health ministry field workers search urban townships and rural areas to locate healers, then arrange their transport to ministry seminars. The healers are taught how the HI virus infects and affects the body, and ways to prevent opportunistic infections. Ten years ago, a self-proclaimed head of Swaziland's traditional healers discouraged the use of condoms, which he said were opposed by Swazi custom. The healer was accused in the press of jeopardising lives, and traditional healers were blamed for furthering the spread of HIV. There is no resistance at all now to accepting and distributing condoms, Dlamini said of her trips to traditional healers. They complain that there are not enough condoms. The bonds that are being made between traditional and Western medicine in the response to AIDS are also bringing together two world views on curing, that in the past were separated by prejudice. (Source: PLUSNEWS, Mbabane, 25 February 2003)
Protracted and involved efforts will have to be undertaken before traditional healers can be formally recognised and rewarded for their work, according to the Health Ministry. But those efforts might turn out to be worthless. Many of the country's healers take a dim view of formal recognition in terms of patients having their medical aid schemes pay for them.
Health Systems Trust
Should traditional healers be recognised as part of the health care delivery system? This controversy rages on and is a long way from being answered. The Valley Trust has considerable experience in the field. In the first 30 years of the organisations existence up to 1980, a stance of non-interference in the affairs of traditional practitioners was taken. In 1980 a number of these practitioners volunteered to be part of the new Community Health Worker (CHW) or Community Based Health Education (CBHE) programme. This was the start of a much closer association between the Valley Trust and Traditional Healers.