Traditional and faith healers are demanding greater involvement in the fight against STIs, HIV and Aids following Government’s announcement that it will this month roll out a self-testing pilot programme.
Despite the fact that many Zimbabweans depend on traditional medicine, healers allege they were not consulted in the initial stages of the HIV self-testing pilot programme.
Sekuru Friday Chisanyu, the Zimbabwe National Practitioners’ Association president, said although traditional healers played a crucial role in healthcare, they had been left out of this important project.
“It is a known fact that more than 80 percent of people in Zimbabwe and in Africa as a whole rely on traditional medicine. Despite the fact that we play such an important role, we were not even consulted during the initial HIV self-testing programme,” Sekuru Chisanyu said.
“We are an integral part of the health sector since we offer both treatment and counselling services. I am not sure whether we are going to be consulted during the later stages of the project. I strongly feel that we should have been involved from the word go.”
Sekuru Chisanyu said traditional and faith healers were willing to learn new developments in the health sector.
“All we are asking for is an opportunity to learn. We want to keep abreast of latest developments in the health sector. We do not operate outside the health sector so there is need for us to learn so that we improve,” Sekuru Chisanyu said.
Mr Itai Bakasa, a Chitungwiza-based prophet, said Government often underestimated their contributions to combating HIV and Aids.
“We do not only treat but offer counselling services. Our clients believe in us and we are helping them fight STIs and HIV and Aids,” Mr Bakasa said.
Mbuya Agnes Kasoni, a traditional healer and midwife in Gweru, said self-testing kits should be distributed to all registered traditional healers.
“The truth is that people, among them those that claim to be Christians, visit us during the day and under the cover of darkness. In my view, it would have been a good idea to give us the kits so that our clients have access to them. We will then offer the counselling services,” Mbuya Kasoni said.
According to Mbuya Kasoni, the majority of health problems people faced emanated from pollution and poor diets.
“As traditional healers, we need to be taught about the cancers and other diseases that are afflicting people. As such, we need to be taught about them and the HIV self-testing project is one project that we must take part in,” Mbuya Kasoni said.
Last year, traditional healers expressed unhappiness with allegedly being sidelined at the International Conference on Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa hosted in Harare.
More than 100 traditional healers from across the continent attended the week-long conference.
In an interview with this publication after Icasa’s conclusion, Sekuru Chisanyu said: “Traditional healers were not given the prominence they deserve. For instance, not a single traditional healer made a presentation at the main conference arena. Instead, we were relegated to group discussions and were never given the opportunity to exchange notes. To be honest, I did not interact with a single traditional healer during the conference.
“Research on traditional medicine and the processes of standardising traditional medicine is often led by people who are not in the practice. The researchers will go on and claim that they would have discovered new medicines. Some even go to the extent of patenting the medicine that we all know has been used by our ancestors.”
Zimbabwe has long-sought to improve the status of traditional medicine in public health service delivery and has established the Traditional Medicine Practitioners Council to promote greater and safer use of traditional medical practices.
TMPC’s mandate derives from the Traditional Medical Practitioners Act (Chapter 27:14) of 1996 and is monitored and administered by the Health Ministry.
Ms Joice Guhwa, the TMPC registrar, also bemoaned the lack of participation by traditional healers in the HIV self-testing project.
“Unfortunately, we were not invited. However, we are going to make consultations with the relevant authorities so that our members can be incorporated. We conduct workshops and take part in awareness campaigns as we seek to educate our members,” Ms Guhwa said.
Meanwhile, Zinpa will soon embark on a nationwide awareness campaign on preventing and treating STIs, HIV and Aids.
More than 100 traditional and faith healers will meet at Mutare’s Moffat Hall for the campaign, after which they will move to Gweru and Beitbridge.
ZINPA has 500 registered members and also conducts awareness campaigns around World Cancer, TB and Malaria days.
Traditional healers work with the National Aids Council and the Primary and Secondary Education Ministry in their campaigns.
“We are an integral part of the health sector since we offer both treatment and counselling services.”
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