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ZIMBABWE: Traditional healing centres to supplement ailing health system

Traditional healers are consulted regularly
Bulawayo, 23 March 2006 (PlusNews) - The Zimbabwean government is stepping up its efforts to include traditional medicine in the ailing health sector, officials told PlusNews, but traditional healers feel more can be done.

Although indigenous medicine practitioners have been formally recognised since 1981, it has taken a while for the legislation to be put into practice.

Deputy Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Edwin Muguti, said herbal medicine could play a crucial role in complementing modern therapeutic methods offered at public hospitals and clinics, particularly in treating AIDS-related infections.

He told PlusNews that the government would set up centres near existing health institutions, allowing easier access to herbal medication. "The centres that we seek to establish will be where healers will operate from; and we encourage members of the public to consult with them."

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 80 percent of Africans regularly consult traditional healers.

"We have started registering all traditional healers across the country ... We want to know how many healers there are ... and this information will help us ... establish the appropriate number of centres ... we will also keep it for our records to know who is a true healer and who is not," Muguti noted.

He also expressed concern about the increasing number of bogus practitioners, which had forced the ministry to create such stringent regulations.

"While we encourage healers to execute their expertise for the benefit of the nation, we strongly condemn counterfeit individuals who have taken advantage of the ill and swindled them of their hard-earned cash. We are opposed to this, and we are currently working on a code of ethics that will be adhered to by all registered practitioners," said Muguti.

Gordon Chavhunduka, president of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA), welcomed government's growing recognition and acceptance of herbal therapy, but criticised the authorities for not fully embracing traditional healing.

"We really support the ... ministry for its efforts to uplift us and work with us, but what we want is to see the real integration of our medicine into their sectors. We want our members to be allowed to operate from the same institutions as doctors and nurses - not to be provided labs of their own at secluded places."

He blamed government for refusing to allow members of his organisation to operate from rural clinics and hospitals, some of which were neglected and had not received medical supplies for a long time. "There are institutions that are now there just by name, especially in the countryside, as they have no medicines whatsoever," Chavhunduka commented.

"What we have been trying to negotiate with the government is that they should allow traditional healers, who have no proper places from which to operate, to be stationed at these institutions to help treat the public, but government is not agreeable to that."

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