Black diamonds not big on old school cures

2011-07-30 15:51

Upwardly mobile black South ­Africans have generally turned their backs on traditional medicine, new research indicates.

And it seems the bigger your bank balance, the less likely you are to go see a traditional healer when you are sick, says a survey of 4?762 households conducted by the Wits School of Public Health.

While black people are twice as likely as other races to consult traditional healers, these days most urban black middle-class patients opt for western medicine.

This trend is not new, and fresh findings from the Wits survey show that the popularity of traditional healing methods has been declining steadily for years.

“Part of the reason for the ­decline could be that there has been an increase in ­access to the public health sector, considering that primary health care services are free and there are now exemptions for the poor to use hospitals,” said Nonhlanhla Nxumalo, one of the researchers.

Two aspects impact on the downward trend:
» ?Warnings from doctors of the potentially dangerous and negative effects of using both western and traditional medicine; and

» ?The same warnings from government, particularly to people living with HIV, TB and chronic illnesses, has intensified the downward trend.

“Literature indicates that traditional healers attend to a range of conditions such as diabetes and HIV, but the use of a number of health services concurrently can delay the process of treating a health problem, making it difficult for health-care providers to deal with it effectively,” said ­Nxumalo.
In addition, the use of traditional medicine in households is often shrouded in secrecy because of the stigma attached to it, the authors of the survey found.

Those who used the services of traditional healers were likely to be poor and unemployed, living in rural areas, aged between 25 and 49 and generally not in good health.

On average, a person would spend R150 for a visit to a traditional healer, a figure not substantially different from the cost of visiting a doctor in private practice.

But the people surveyed reported that paying a traditional healer was more flexible as they accepted payment in the form of livestock and others followed a “no cure, no pay” practice.

In 2008 the World Health ­Organisation estimated that the traditional healing industry in South Africa was worth about R250 million a year and there were more than 100 000 traditional healers in the country.

The Traditional Healers’ Organisation, the biggest body, said it had about 70?000 members.

The poorest households surveyed reported spending more than 10% of the household budget on the services of a traditional healer.

International health ­policy and health expenditure studies indicated that spending more than 5% of your monthly budget on visits to a traditional healer “was considered a high burden, but above 10% was regarded as catastrophic, leading to further poverty”.

The paper was one of 14 that ­appeared in the special edition of the International Journal of Public Health to mark the Centre for Health Policy’s 24th anniversary. 

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