- In many countries across the African continent, high reliance on traditional medicine and self-medication has led to several countries integrating healers into their formal healthcare systems.
There are two main elements of informal health care across Africa. The first is the widespread faith placed in traditional healers, and the second is the high prevalence of self medication.
The former represents sticky attitudes to traditional healthcare models, and the latter results from unaffordable medicines and the rural/urban divide.
Although modern medicine is generally accepted throughout Africa, it has not replaced but augmented indigenous health approaches.
According to the WHO, 80% of Africans regularly use traditional healers. They are often herbalists and are frequently the first and last line of defense against the most contagious and debilitating diseases.
In Zimbabwe, the National Traditional Healers Association points out that there is nowhere for the poor to get affordable healthcare, so their only option is healers because they don’t require upfront payments.
But the issue goes beyond affordability. Traditional healing is linked to wider belief systems and remains integral to the lives of most Africans. Many consult traditional healers even if they can afford medical services. They have a powerful social standing and some Africans will queue for hours for their care. Sometimes it can be very problematic, as herbal treatments can have dangerous interactions with pharmaceuticals.
A few countries are integrating healers into the formal system. South Africa has recognized the country’s estimated 200,000 healers as official health service providers.
Evidence suggests that collaboration between healers and professional practitioners can increase compliance with recommended dosage, as has happened in KwaZulu-Natal where 87% of patients treated by healers survive tuberculosis compared with 67% who did not.