Field Updates

Amref Tanzania: Traditional healers blend old customs with health training

In rural Tanzania, traditional beliefs that define sickness as an unavoidable part of life often prevail over modern medical interventions. With few alternatives, people who live far from health centers often rely on traditional healers to treat their various health issues, but many healers are aware of their limitations.

Hollo was a very active traditional healer from the Ikungulipu village. She is best known for her exceptional skills in using medicinal plants to cure illnesses, and people consult her for everything from curing disease to good-luck charms. According to Hollo, her clients prefer traditional healers to doctors as they feel some things cannot be treated in the hospital. Unfortunately, patients only turn to modern health care services when traditional healing treatments fail, when herbs can’t treat potentially fatal infections like malaria, or when unskilled healers miss the signs of birth obstructions.

Sometimes, when they make it to a health facility, it is too late.

“I once witnessed a woman being taken to the hospital, unfortunately, too late. And she lost a lot of blood. She was taken to the hospital, but shortly after they arrived, she died,” says Hollo.

Amref Tanzania Community Health Workers (CHWs) started to work with healers by teaching them about different health issues and medical treatments.

“Our Community Health Worker, Samson, who Amref trained through Ustawi wa Mwanamke (Department of Women) Project, did a good job educating us,” Hollo told us. “When my [pregnant] daughter came from Mwanza, I took her to the clinic. After giving birth, she, unfortunately, started losing blood. Then she was transferred to another hospital, and a blood transfusion was made possible. And she is still alive, things which I wasn’t able to do myself,” she said.

After connecting with local healers, the CHWs learned that after hearing healers share information about malaria prevention and treatment, the community started to take malaria more seriously. More people even went to their local clinic after the recommendation of their healer.

“I am very grateful to the government for all they’ve done,” says Hollo. “Now, the children are not suffering from malnutrition or even malaria due to the services of our CHW Samson. Even our environment is currently very clean. I’m very grateful to the government for engaging our CHW, Samson. Diseases and deaths that can be prevented have been reduced.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking a natural alternative. But there will be times when medical attention is necessary. By working with the health pillars of the community, Amref can help people find the balance and transform all parts of African healthcare from within!

Photos by Adrian Mgaya (Amref Tanzania) of Hollo, and her daughter and grandchild.

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