The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) Traditional Health Practitioners (THP) Sector expresses gratitude to the Department of Health, Minister Dr Zwelin Mkhize and the Acting Director-General, Dr Yogan Pillay for their prompt response, leadership and acknowledgement of THPs as essential service providers amid the Covid-19 global pandemic.
THPs have multiple and distinctive roles and have been a long-standing component of healthcare practice in South Africa which contributes to the primary healthcare needs of the population. They promote good health and wellbeing, provide healthcare services and are leaders and advisors in their communities. In response to the recent concerns of the Sector regarding the lack of inclusive Covid-19 policies for traditional healers, the Department of Health has established guidelines for THPs in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown.
The guidelines recognise THP’s as health providers based on the National Health Act 61 of 2003 which describes a healthcare provider as a person providing healthcare services in terms of any law. The Traditional Health Practitioners Act 27 2007 regulates the rights of THPs. Placing emphasis on the classification of THPs as healthcare providers show the formal integration of traditional healthcare in the public health system and the important role of the sector during the pandemic and lockdown.
The guidelines promote the rights to cultural practices and dignity of those providing and receiving healthcare from THPS. THPS are legally authorised to deliver health services without requiring a permit. The Sector must work to ensure the curb of transmission of the Coronavirus, reduce the spread of misinformation and fake news, health messaging and ensuring that measures of physical distancing, good hygiene practices and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) are adhered to. The THP sector will work with the team from the Department of Health in screening and messaging.
Commissioner Sheila Mbele-Khama, Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CLR), said: “As healers, we appreciate the strive and the gain. The guidelines are a step ahead. There is still more that needs to be done. Other countries are moving towards traditional medicine and we feel that South Africa should be moving in the same direction. The guidelines are clear to say that there is no cure for the Coronavirus; the THP sector hopes that we can join hands in finding treatment that may be with us.”
Mbele placed much stressed on the need for more research on traditional health practices in South Africa. There is a need to develop systematic evidence about healing roles, practices, and methods and to investigate the role and effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector.
I light of the above. THP proposes the following to government:
- The government must conduct research on traditional medicine and its impact.
- The government must consult with the sector on the treatment of the Coronavirus.
- The Department of health must organise a consultation including other Departments for further discussion on the agenda with THP’s.
- Continued accreditation for THPs in the public health system.