Editorial | Traditional healing has crucial role in SA

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In SA as much as 80% of the population is believed to make use of traditional health practitioners or THP – the official umbrella term for herbalists, faith healers, birth attendants and traditional surgeons.
In recent years there has also been a growing realisation worldwide of the importance of traditional medicine.
Now, thanks to a small but potentially significant study done in the Bay, there is evidence traditional healing can have a positive role to play in terms of supporting the treatment of mental conditions according to a western framework.
We report today on a group of psychiatrists who set about determining the number of patients who had first consulted traditional healers for mental illness before then turning to doctors, nurses or psychologists for help.
What emerged was that the two vastly different approaches can run concurrently to the benefit of patients and that there are some promising areas for future collaboration.
Besides dispelling some of the myths around patient treatment by traditional healers, the study for instance found that these healers could actively help patients comply with their mainstream medication.
In fact, according to the patients in question, the majority of healers did encourage them to continue with their regular medication.
On a more disturbing note, however, there were still some reports of patients being abused by traditional healers, for instance in the form of beatings, harmful physical restraints and sometimes even sexual abuse.
Unfortunately there will always be unscrupulous healers who will contribute to giving those who are operating ethically a bad reputation.
That said, important gains have been made in recent years to bring some form of regulation that will ultimately achieve a greater integration of traditional health services into the formal health system.
It is particularly in the rural areas of SA, where there is often limited access to clinics and medical health practitioners, that traditional healing can play a crucial complementary role.

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