Traditional healers sang songs, ululated and danced joyfully as they gathered at Khayelitsha District Hospital (KDH) on Sunday November 27 to mark an historic day.
The provincial department of health signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Khayelitsha Eastern Substructure (KESS), an umbrella body of Traditional Health Practitioners (THP) at the hospital on the day.
Kess chairperson, Xolani Tshandu, said the agreement showed that the department recognises traditional healers’ role in the health system and values their impact on society.
Mr Tshandu who is a traditional healer himself, said they were over the moon when they were finally able to find a common ground to work together with the department of health.
As part of agreement, the department will provide medical equipment such as gloves and blades, he said.
He added that similar partnerships were already active in other countries, such as China, where traditional healers and doctors worked at the same hospitals. He said he hopes that in the future this would happen in South Africa too.
He said for years traditional healers have felt disrespected by the provincial health system.
‘’We are not nurses and nurses are not traditional healers but we both deal with patients for various health reasons. We are hoping that this relationship is going to complement each other going forward.
“I think in the future the department is also going to empower us with training such as how to label our muthis and keep our Indumba clean for our clients. This is just the beginning and we are hoping that we can show other provinces that this is possible.
“In future, this is also going to help traditional healers and doctors to trace a patient’s medical history,” he said.
Mr Tshandu said the relationship with the department of health started during the pandemic when they were approached by government officials to be amongst the first people to be vaccinated.
Khayelitsha East substructure director, James Kruger, said the department was initially reluctant to approach the traditional healers about vaccination because it is deeply invested in western medicine and does not really respect traditional medicine. He said he pleaded with them to start afresh and was pleased when they elected a committee and worked towards signing an MOU, subject to annual review.
The agreement includes training, capacity building and linkage of patients, he said, adding that the department wanted to build a relationship with the THP who worked very closely with people on the ground and would be able to inform doctors if patients were not taking their medicine correctly.
He said they are hoping that traditional healers could be incorporated into referral pathways so that nurses could refer patients back to them when needed.
“I said to the traditional healers; ‘Let’s talk and let’s look at things that went wrong and to do the stuff you need to be bold’. And we are bending the rules.
“I hope that sub-structures will follow. I’m hoping that in the next two years or so we will have a firm relationship with our nurses, doctors and THPs and it will become part of our campaigns,” he said.
Khayelitsha Development Forum chairperson, Ndithini Tyhido, applauded the initiative calling it the first of its kind. He said he hopes it will yield the desired outcomes.