South Africa Summit Models Inclusion of Traditional Healers in HIV, Tuberculosis Campaign

Healers SummitAccording to a report at South Africa’s News 24, the North Cape government recently convened a “summit” of the region’s traditional healers. The purpose was to fulfill goals “to reduce HIV, TB and STI transmission and related HIV and TB mortality, disability and the social impact thereof.” According to the article, for the Northern Cape government, “traditional healers play an integral role in the prevention and treatment of HIV and TB, as well as the care and support of patients.” For this reason, these are included in the strategy and the summit convened. The logic: “[These healers] therefore need the support, education and cooperation that formal health-care systems might be able to offer; while the latter could potentially expand the reach and efficacy of HIV prevention and treatment programmes by enlisting the help of traditional health practitioners.”

The logic continues: “This summit aimed to ensure capacity development in the traditional health-care sector by motivating involvement in the local and district Aids councils and to provide relevant information and facilitate networking to build good relations in education, care, treatment and support programmes. It was also aimed at enabling traditional health practitioners to become agents of change in their communities and reduce the impact of HIV/Aids on traditional health-care practitioners by familiarising them with the key performance indicators of the Provincial Strategic Plan.” The event included time for ample discussion which was reportedly fruitful. The local program director stated, “I am also impressed with the issues that were discussed. Some of the topics need to be mystified and demystified to find common ground between the traditional medicines and western medicines.”

Comment: The news accounts are few, in any nation, of conventional initiatives directly reaching out to traditional healer communities—or even the licensed so-called “complementary and alternative medicine” professions such as acupuncture, massage, and naturopathic medicine. That this remains rare for health planning of the North Cape government is suggested by the way the reporter backed into the story. He first described—usefully—various categories of healers and only then reported the mission and outcomes of the summit. The suggestion of the effort to find “common ground” emits a cultural healing that can be felt on this side of the Atlantic. There was no discussion about whether any traditional therapies or practices were considered.

WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy: 2014-2023 When I had the opportunity to serve on two of the WHO planning sessions for the current referenced in the article, I mused a good deal on steps to respectfully bring traditional practitioners into what I found myself calling “NGO medicine.” I was invited as an organizer of a sort of “traditional healers” group in North America, the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC). The ACCAHC professions have in common that most are regulated, licensed, and connected to educational programs with government-recognized educational accreditation. Even in that regulated of an environment, there has been a chasm to cross. Clearly, the process of inclusion can be more difficult without these standards. However, the paths to knitting together all the forces that can help prevent disease and create health are infinite. Good on the North Cape government for extending itself. Now I’d love to hear a transcript of the dialogue in the open discussions.

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