Traditional medicine gets formal recognition

SOUTH AFRICA: Traditional medicine gets formal recognition

JOHANNESBURG, 10 Sep 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - Traditional healers in South Africa were formally recognised this week after parliament approved legislation to regulate the industry.

According to the Department of Health, an estimated 70 percent of South Africans consult the country's 200,000 healers. But until now, this sector of healthcare had been largely ignored.

The Traditional Health Practitioner's Bill will ensure that traditional medicine and its practitioners are integrated into the country's healthcare system.

The bill was passed by a near unanimous vote in parliament, with Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang describing it as "groundbreaking legislation."

Under the new legislation a statutory council for traditional healers will be created, and a registration mechanism for traditional healers, birth attendants and surgeons set up. Only those registered with the council will be able to practice.

The council will also act as a "watchdog" by setting ethical standards.

Kaizer Gumede-Maebele, chairwoman of the Mpumalanga task team on traditional healers and a member of South Africa's National AIDS Council, has been practising as a healer for the past 30 years - in the face of stigma from doctors and her own community.

"We've been crying for this respect all along, but we never got it. Today I am happy and proud to be doing what I am doing," she told PlusNews.

Registered healers will now be able to issue a medical certificate and be recognised by medical aid schemes, despite a wary reaction and predictions that this could push up premiums and costs.

But sangomas and inyangas will not be allowed to diagnose or treat cancer, HIV/AIDS or any other terminal disease, or else they will be found guilty of an offence and liable for a fine or imprisonment for up to 12 months.

Maebele admitted there would be quacks who would "abuse" the legislation. "They will be popping up from as far as other African countries and even China, claiming they can heal people."

"The bill is a good start but we can't say it is 100 percent," she added. Maebele called for the health department to consult regularly with traditional healers on the ground to refine the legislation.


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