Traditional Healers to Become "Health Professionals"?
Doctors For Life, representing over one thousand health practitioners in South Africa, stands for the practice of medicine that is based on evidence and the highest ethics. DFL is convinced that any form of medicine that is not based on empiric truth is potentially (and ultimately) harmful to patients in need.
DFL's presentation before the parliamentary committee on Traditional Health Practitioners objected to the government's plan to register “Traditional Healers” as medical practitioners on the following grounds:
1. Traditional medical practices have, over time, not improved the survival of children, or mothers in birth, or patients;
2. Most of the medicines used by traditional practitioners have not been validated scientifically;
3. Many people suffer because of the serious complications (side-effects) that arise due to the use of traditional medicines;
4. As stated by the World Health Organization (WHO), most traditional health practitioners make use of "intangible forces" ("spirits") in their practice of healing.
5. Traditional healers (at least African traditional healers) are priests of the religious system of African Traditional Religion (ATR), and function as such. To grant them the status of health professionals without doing the same to office bearers of other religions would be discriminatory against other religions.
6. Occult powers are used in most (the WHO says in all) of the therapeutic acts of traditional healers;
7. Traditional healers make their diagnosis (and therapeutic combinations) with the aid of "spirits" and under the control of the "spirits";
8. Most traditional healers are "called" by the "spirits" to become healers.
9. The licensing of traditional healers will have a negative impact on the economy of South Africa, with regards to giving people time off work for long periods, as often required by the "ancestral spirits".
We feel strongly that The Traditional Health Practitioners Bill is a mechanism that: (a) cannot regulate the spirit world, (b) cannot control the communication between "ancestral spirits" and the healers, and (c) cannot ensure safety for the public against the detrimental effects of traditional medicines.
It is irrational to allow the regulation of the use of medicines that have not been scientifically validated. This does not appear responsible, sensible or reasonable. We fail to understand how the public will be protected if the healers are still allowed to use medicines that have not been validated scientifically…
We consider it our medical and scientific responsibility to ask this sober question: "How can we regulate what is not yet proven to be right and reliable therapeutic options?!" Should we not first research what are claimed to be remedies before we regulate them?
In the present format of the Bill we also cannot see (despite the definition) how "unprofessional conduct" will be determined. Will it be unprofessional to use vaginal secretions for making a traditional remedy (as is the practice with some healers)? Will it be unprofessional to use scrapings from the armpits? Or is it only unprofessional to use medicines that have not yet been researched and validated?
We are convinced that passing this Bill will open "a can of worms" of legal controversies and implications. One example would be the question as to whether traditional healers will be authorized to issue death certificates.
As Doctors For Life International, we are committed to be part of the solution and not part of the problem and would therefore like to request the government to further investigate the ramifications of passing such a Bill before voting on it.
Dr Moses Thindisa and Dr Jacob Seobi