TRADITIONAL HEALERS: THE UNTAPPED RESOURCE
In this day and age would you consider seeking healthcare services from traditional healers? Traditional healers are people who have not undergone any formal medical training but are considered competent enough to provide health services. They majorly use natural remedies from plants, minerals as well as animals among other elements. They also base their skills on social, cultural and religious background to treat illnesses.
In Kilifi County, the traditional healers have been instrumental in pushing for awareness on mental health in the communities. The traditional healers explained that their training was passed down to them by their fore-fathers and this was a long existing tradition. Traditional healers are a major part of the rural health care system and due to high levels of stigma on mental health; traditional healers are the people that families turn to. Some of the traditional healers manage mental health incidents through music.
HERAF in conjunction with the Department of Health, Kilifi County, saw it as important to get this group together with those who treat mental illness from the scientific perspective because they could learn a lot from one another. The traditional healers gave testimonies of having healed patients who had suffered from schizophrenia for seven and twenty-five years respectively after finding the root cause. These success stories showed that there is still unexplored territory in regards to mental health treatment options that the scientific world needs to look into.
As a tradition that has served, sustained and cured our communities for thousands of years, it would be unfortunate if such knowledge was let to get extinct. This group of healers is slowly diminishing due to modernization including the current system of education that rarely takes into consideration traditional knowledge. Relatives are rarely passing the knowledge and skills down to the young generations. Traditional healers deserve recognition by the health sector for the tremendous yet unnoticed work that they do at grass root level since they are able to provide health services in a decentralized way which is a goal the Government of Kenya has in providing healthcare to each citizen. By empowering this group we are bound to get a lot of insight into different ways of handling mental health illnesses.
It is important to note that offering holistic health treatment to a person requires everyone to join hands in support of this and that includes traditional healers. We can only be strong together.
Compiled by Becky Makau, student of Journalism and Media Studies, University of Nairobi