Tanzania: Traditional Healers Cited As Big Spoilers

HEALTH practitioners in the country have accused traditional medicine men and women of depriving patients suffering from life-threatening illnesses quality palliative care.

The experts faulted the traditional healers of preventing clinicians and qualified care givers from accessing such patients.

Citing a case of 'Kokoto', a well-known traditional medicine man in Tanga, the health practitioners alleged that the former were exacerbating the pain and sufferings of the patients by denying them access to care givers and outreach programmes which cater for palliative care.

"They (medicine men) are a major hindrance to the provision of such care to bedridden patients," remarked Ms Tumaini Kweka from the Selian hospice and Palliative Care Unit.

The clinician observed that the traditional healers were administering their patients with unknown medication, oblivious of the pain and misery they were inflicting on the patients.

An assistant director in the Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) in the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Dr Sarah Maongezi, underscored the importance of registering the traditional healers with a view of weeding out those who fail to meet the threshold of practicing traditional medicine.

"More often than not, these healers have been told of how incapable they are in curing life-threatening illnesses but they would still not buy the idea," she said.

While opening the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) Palliative Care Annual Review and Planning Meeting, ELCT Secretary General, Brighton Killewa said the Lutheran Church would not relent in offering Palliative Care services to those in need.

"We've reached close to 60,000 patients in the last 20 years through services offered by our 23 hospitals and five health centers scattered around the country," hinted the ELCT Secretary General.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Palliative Care as an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

Such care is said to provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms while also affirming life and regards dying as a normal process.

In Tanzania, such care is provided by a number of organizations, including Selian Hospital, Muheza Hospice Care, PASADA, and the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (OCRI).

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