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Zanzibar starts registering more than 2,000 traditional healers as people lose trust in hospitals

September 20, 2019 at 02:30 pm | News

Theodora Aidoo

Theodora Aidoo | Staff Writer

September 20, 2019 at 02:30 pm | News

A traditional healer massages three-month-old infant who is very lethargic and can't hold his head up. Pic credit: Reuters

In Tanzania’s semi-autonomous region known as Zanzibar, authorities are registering traditional healers along with their herbs, holy scriptures and massages.

The move, according to authorities, is to regulate the practitioners who treat all kinds of illnesses, Reuters reports.

An estimated 2,000 traditional healers are present in Tanzania’s Zanzibar area. Locally referred to as ‘mgangas’, the healers treat depression, hernias and many kinds of diseases.

In effect, the government is working with them to ensure quality control, hence the passing of Tanzania’s Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act in 2009.

To ensure that plants used in medicines are of the same standard, a group facilitated by the registrar’s office links doctors with traditional healers to train them on specific diseases like hypertension, diabetes and pregnancy.

The mgangas share information with the doctors about patient statistics and needs, according to government registrar Hassan Combo.

Although people in Zanzibar believe in supernatural sprits like djinns, some healers use scriptures from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, while others use herbs or both.

FILE: A traditional healer.
Pic Credit: AFP

Some healers, like Haji Mrisho, bless pregnant women to prevent their unborn babies being possessed by djinns. There are also sheikhs who read the Koran to cast out the djinns blamed for many sicknesses while healers like the Mwanahija Mzee massage individuals with cases like paralysis believed to be a djinn.

Since passing the law, about 340 healers have been registered. A council of 11 members, including respected healers, village elders, lawyers and birth attendants, are responsible for approving the applications each month.

In order to be registered, mgangas must be 18-years of age and have at least three years of experience backed by a recommendation letter from a trained mganga.

At her clinic where women come in their numbers with their sick children, traditional healer Bi Mwanahija Mzee, 56, who is already registered, tends to patients.

 “People come here because I actually help them. I met many patients that went to hospital first and got no help or the medicine didn’t work.”

“This is my job six days a week for more than 20 years so I do better, know more than them. Patients that come to me don’t die,” she was quoted by Reuters.

At the moment, some patients in Zanzibar trust traditional healers over public hospitals where they feel their ailments are not treated properly.

Fatawi Haji Hafidh, manager at Makunduchi Hospital, the second-largest government-run hospital said doctors and nurses, who are already overburdened, may not have the time to attend to patients.

He added that patients may also not be able to afford the medicine prescribed, leading them to relapse and fuelling the suspicion they already have about state hospitals.

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