“Justified Traditional Medicine”: Establishing “Ethical Alternative Medicine Practice” in Zanzibar

The transition from the way traditional healthcare providers have worked in villages for centuries to the modern era is captured in this opinion piece in All Africa. Entitled “Tanzania: Why Traditional Healers Must Be Registered,” the story opens with the plight of traditional healer Omar Ali Mpendu from Ruifiji. He reportedly “came to the Isles three months ago and had a good reception from people in Makunduchi village, about 70 kilometers from the Stone Town. The community leaders of Mtende, Nganani, and Kijini said Mr Mpendu was good since his arrival in the village, winning praise from the local villagers.”

The healer’s problem: the Zanzibar Traditional and Alternative Medicine Council (ZTAMC), established under the Zanzibar 2008 policy on traditional medicine, requires a license to practice, which Mpendu couldn’t produce. The secretary of ZTAMC intervened. His decision to shut down Ali Mpendu’s practice was supported by Mohammed Saleh Jidawi, MD, from the Ministry of Health. Saleh Jidawi stated that “the need to publicly acknowledge and monitor the practicing traditional healers and protect the public wellbeing is among the priority of the health sector.” The author underscores that the Minister “recognizes the importance of natural therapy practitioners, and his ministry would continue to cooperate with them in upgrading to provide education and to research.” Reference is made to the importance of incorporating “healings that are in accordance with religious faith.” The strategy is “promoting access to justified traditional medicine care to all in need.”

For context, the author references the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of traditional medicine as “the health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant-, animal-, and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose, and prevent illnesses or maintain wellbeing.”

Comment: The piece is a balanced look at the way the movement for “integrative health” and interprofessionalism is framed in a nation where NGO-based medicine meets traditional practices. One healer who supports the growing dialogue with the government on traditional medicine regulation speaks to how “people need to know and understand the developed medicines from the west, and also the ‘African and Arabic magic’ therapy.” Interesting to think of “Justified Traditional Medicine” as a goal, even as “Evidence-Based Medicine” or, more truthfully, “Evidence Informed Practice” dominate the scene in the U.S. and Europe. The writer notes that a related area of incipient regulation is midwifery. Minister of Health Jidawi describes an integrative birth care ideal: “Traditional birth attendants play significant role in home deliveries where more than 50 per cent of birth occurs. With such a background there is an unequivocal need to ensure close collaboration and regulation between modern and alternative medicine practitioners.”


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