Sunday, 31 March 2013

Traditional healers are speculators – scientists

Traditional healers have requested the government to put in place a legal framework to regulate the practitioners of this business, but worries grow as far as the validity of the herbs used is concerned.

A 2011 survey by the forum for traditional medicine practitioners in Rwanda, AGA Rwanda Network, showed that more than 2,600 traditional healers practice their medicine in villages countrywide.

“We cannot verify the validity of any medicine they use since no research has ever been carried out,” said Emmanuel Rekeraho, the President of the association.

Traditional herbalist Isidore Mahoro, a resident of Muhanga District (formerly Gitarama) came to light in 2004 when he claimed to have found an HIV/AIDS cure through the “inspiration of the Virgin Mary”.

The Ministry of Health moved in and stopped his operations. 

Dr. Jean de Dieu Ngirabega, Director of Clinical Services at the Ministry of Health says that the purported healer of HIV/AIDS had never before been a traditional healer.

Similarly, Gambia President Yahya Jammeh said in 2007 that he had found a remedy of boiled herbs to cure AIDS, stirring anger among Western medical experts who claimed he was giving false hope to the sick. 

Angelo Kaggwa, The program coordinator of a US-based Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention says that if any traditional healer is confident, science should be the resort.

“We do not work under speculations, so if anyone claims to have a cure, it needs to be scientifically validated,” Angelo echoed. 

Rekeraho from local traditional healers’ network said that the government should pass a law regulating the profession which he says is not ‘standardized.’ 

The law should also include how a laboratory for traditional medicine should be put in place, Rekeraho added.

He however says that countries like China, Japan and India collect a lot of revenues from traditional medicines and called for the government to strengthen the sector. 

“We cannot discourage people who buy traditional medicine because this has been used for a long time. Even our ancestors survived on traditional medicines,” Rekeraho said.

Many regional civil society organisations have also requested traditional healers to have their medicines tested for safety because they might lie to the public and therefore the EAC civil societies call for governments to work on the issue.

For Julien Nyombayire, a research analysis officer and physician from the San Frascisco Research Project in Rwanda, some of the traditional healers are genuine but also adds that some are bogus.

His advice is that governments invest in laboratories that test the validity of traditional herbs.

“We sometimes hear people claiming to cure diseases with herbs, but really people should use scientifically-proven medicines since with health insurance scheme they can get scientifically proven at cheaper prices with minimized risks,” Nyombayire warned.

But Dr Ngirabega at the Clinical Services of the Ministry of Health says that the ministry has held meetings with traditional healers to devise a draft law regulating their work.

He said that there are many traditional healers, which has made it difficult to research on the validity of the herbs they use.

“No scientific study supports them. They have only shared skills from their ancestry and they are many in every village,” Ngirabega said.

On whether the ministry issues certificates to traditional doctors, Ngirabega said that the traditional healers are allowed to work after getting a recognition paper from village level to the sector where an association brings them together. 

“They recognize each other among themselves and they are entitled to admit those who are recognized in their areas,” he said.


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