The provincial Department of Health and City Health have vowed to forge a good working relationship with traditional health practitioners in a quest to prevent unnecessary deaths.
On Wednesday May 30, the government hosted a workshop at the Philippi civic centre to kickstart the initiative. Doctors and traditional healers came together to share their health expertise.
Event organisers said the department had only superficial interaction with traditional healers and the plan was to bridge that gap and better equip the healers.
Diarrhoea and pneumonia were highlighted as major problems, particularly among children, especially between November and mid-May, which traditional and Western doctors should tackle together.
Mitchell’s Plain paediatrician, Doctor Graeme Spittal, appealed to the traditional healers and herbalists to always look for warning signs of illness when treating children.
He said several measures could be implemented to reduce child mortality in the province, with many children dying as a result of diarrhoea every year. Describing some of the symptoms of pneumonia, he noted: “When the child turns blue, is lethargic, has apnoea, is tired, breathing very fast and have signs of distress, those are alarming bells. We are aware that our treatment of diarrhoea might be different, but we should get it right. The treatment of pneumonia is very difficult.”
Traditional healers said they were not against partnering with the doctors, but cautioned against a poor relationship between them and local clinics and complained about staff attitude towards them.
The healers said the attitude drove patients away.
Traditional healer Yoliswa Nyali, said the workshop was long overdue.
“This is a great idea, but the problem is that when you tell patients to go to the clinic or hospital, they refuse.
“They would complain about the attitude directed to them by staff,” she said.
“It is not that we do not refer patients. We do but they cannot tolerate the treatment meted by the nurses.”
Another traditional healer, Emma Kejoe, said having a direct link or contact with a particular doctor would help to improve relationships between clinics and healers.
“That will help us to refer our patients to that person instead of telling them to go to clinics where they will be badly treated,” she said.
She said many people who believed in witchcraft did not listen when traditional healers told them something in contradiction to their beliefs.
Thandiswa Mjobo called on fellow traditional healers to learn from Western medicine and emphasised that they had a responsibility to ensure that no risks were taken with people’s lives.