Traditional doctors, sangomas want to be vaccinated alongside frontline health workers

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Traditional doctors, sangomas want to be vaccinated alongside frontline health workers. (Getty Images)
Traditional doctors, sangomas want to be vaccinated alongside frontline health workers. (Getty Images)
  • Traditional doctors, herbalists and sangomas say they are health workers and are calling on government to include them when frontline health workers' vaccinations start.
  • On Monday, the first consignment of vaccines landed at OR Tambo International Airport.
  • The government will begin its first phase of the vaccination programme by vaccinating health workers.

Traditional doctors, herbalists and sangomas say they are health workers too and are calling on the government to include them in the rollout of vaccinations to frontline health workers.

The call was made by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Traditional Health Practitioners Association, which has a membership of 75 000.

On Monday, the first one million vaccine doses arrived at OR Tambo International Airport from the Serum Institute of India (SII), with a further 500 000 doses expected later this month.

These will be rolled out to frontline health workers as part of the first phase.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his deputy, David Mabuza, accepted and inspected the delivery at the airport.

The president of the SADC Traditional Health Practitioners Association, Professor Mbayimbayi Hlathi, told News24 this week he had written a letter to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize appealing to him and the government to consider traditional health practitioners in the rollout.

'Equals to doctors and nurses'

Hlathi said his members did the same job as professional doctors and nurses and he was shocked when it appeared the government had excluded them from its plans.

He said: 

According to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, we belong to the Department of Health. The Constitution of the country recognises us as equals to doctors and nurses. About 80% or 85% of the black community in South Africa first consult us before they go to clinics and hospitals.

"For me, it doesn't make sense to leave us behind and go vaccinate nurses and doctors alone, and I have heard that some of our provinces we will go as far as vaccinating security guards guarding hospitals, leaving us vulnerable to this disease," he added.

The Constitution recognises traditional practitioners in terms of the Traditional Practitioners Act of 2007.

Hlathi said during the first outbreak of Covid-19 in the country, his plea to the government to include traditional doctors in the fight against Covid-19 had fallen on deaf ears.

"We can help in terms of spreading knowledge to the people on the ground because traditional practitioners are everywhere. That is why I am saying that we [are] also supposed to be the first people to receive vaccination.

"We wrote a letter to the minister on Monday, we are hoping it will reach him. We raised our concerns and asked him to take into consideration because I heard that some of his MECs, they understand that they must vaccinate traditional practitioners, but including the minister, some leaders in the government don't think anything about us."

'Self-register for vaccinations'

National health department spokesperson Popo Maja said after engagements with stakeholders, Mkhize had considered traditional healers.

He added the minister would be launching an app on Wednesday that would allow all health workers and traditional practitioners to register themselves for vaccinations.

He said: 

I've already seen this app and there are different categories of health workers included, [there] is a category of traditional practitioners where they can self-register for vaccination.

Asked what traditional practitioners should do if they did not have cellphones or computers, Maja said "we have a database of all traditional practitioners registered with us. They can visit our offices and we can make alternative plans".

But an unconvinced Hlathi said he had not received any feedback from the health department about registering traditional practitioners.

The government is aiming to vaccinate 67% of the South African population to gain herd immunity and defeat the virus. More than 40 million people will be targeted to achieve this goal.

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