Traditional Medicine Needs Better Deal

Cape Times (South Africa), December 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

Traditional Medicine Needs Better Deal


THE Government urgently needs to remove barriers that prevent traditional and complementary medicine practitioners from being reimbursed for services from medical aid schemes.

This is according to researchers Nceba Gqaleni, Indres Moodley, Heidi Kruger, Abigail Ntuli and Heather McLeod writing in the SA Health Review.

They say the government should issue practice code numbers to these practitioners and include their therapies in the annual National Health Reference Price list so that they can starting claiming.

There are about 190 000 traditional healers in the country, mostly in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. The sector also provides thousands of other jobs for people, mainly women, in the sourcing and selling of indigenous plants.

The traditional medicine trade is worth about R2.9 billion a year (5.6% of the national health budget) and serves almost 27 million consumers, Futureworks researchers found.

Some 84% of clinic patients in Durban said they also used traditional medicine, according to a survey.

"Many customers report that they choose to use traditional healers as they feel the treatment is more holistic than Western medicine," noted the Futureworks researchers.

"Rituals combining ancestor worship, divination and plant medicines are often part of the consultation process and it is this dual spiritual and physiological treatment that many customers appreciate."

The average patient paid for five visits a year to a traditional healer, and consumed about 750g of medicinal plants a year.

This translates into an estimated 20 000 tons of indigenous plants being harvested in eastern South Africa alone every year.

As a result, many of these plants are now very scarce, with some plants, such as Salacia kraussii, fetching R4 800 per kilogram, while the African wild ginger plant is reported to be extinct in the wild in South Africa. …

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