SEVERAL health and employment experts have questioned the nature of powers that will be given to traditional healers in terms of issuing sick-notes and medical aid coverage as proposed in the the Traditional Healers' Bill.
Government announced last month that it was going to pass a Traditional Healers' Bill and set up a Traditional Health Council to regulate traditional healers' practice to enable those who fall under this category to issue sick-notes.
Namibia Employers Federation secretary general Tim Parkhouse said according to the existing Labour Act of 1992, "only medical doctors were allowed to issue certificates".
"In terms of medical certificates, bear in mind that under the 1992 Labour Act, only medical doctors were allowed to issue certificates. The 2007 Labour Act allows a qualified registered sister to issue a certificate," Parkhouse said.
He revealed that the Federation was investigating complaints of poorly written medical certificates whose authenticity is doubtful.
Asked if a medical certificate from traditional doctors would be considered legitimate, Parkhouse chose to answer the question with a question of his own.
"A trained medical practitioner would know that a sickness might take about five days to heal, but would traditional healers be able to give the same sort of evaluation?" Parkhouse asked.
He further said although there is room for both modern medicine and traditional medicine to co-exist, it was up to medical aid schemes to evaluate whether the traditional healing practice deserves to be taken seriously enough to be funded.
"Medical aid schemes are always careful on funding. They will have to evaluate themselves," he said while questioning the reliability of traditional medicine.
"What sort of training do traditional healers receive compared to modern medicine practitioners?" He asked adding that although traditional healers may not have had formal training in their chosen profession, even modern medicine practitioners are prone to making mistakes in their diagnosis sometimes.
Parkhouse expressed concern over the criteria government is going to use in registering traditional healers. "Who are the legitimate traditional healers?" He asked.
The Registrar of the Health Profession Council of Namibia, Cornelius Weyulu, said the decision on whether to cover the medical bills of those who visit traditional healers will be left to the medical aid schemes themselves.
He also said the decision on whether these traditional healers will be allowed to issue medical certificates will depend on the powers Parliament is going to give to such practitioners through the Act. Weyulu added that the role of the Council will not change should the law on traditional healers be promulgated.
Methealth Namibia's corporate communication officer Uatavi Mbai said whether medical aid schemes will cover the costs of traditional healers' clients will be discussed at industry level once the practitioners are registered with the Allied Health Practitioners Council of Namibia (AHPCNA) and a scope of practice is in place.
Mbai, however, said the process might take a while.
"The Namibia Association of Medical Aid Funds (NAMAF) will have to issue practice numbers and NAMAF tariffs while codes will have to be investigated as they are currently not in place. I imagine this will take a while before it could possibly be discussed at any decision-making level," she said.
On whether traditional doctors will be eligible to issue sick-notes to their patients and if such medical certificates will allow employees to be excused from work, Mbai said: "This will be determined by their scope of practice, which is drawn up by the Profession and approved by the Health Profession's Council, thereafter assessed and validated by the industry," she said.