Growing recognition of traditional health professionals
A group of Aboriginal traditional healers will receive an international psychotherapy award in Sydney today, the Sigmund Freud Award 2011 . This is yet another evidence that, gradually, the idea is taking hold that traditional knowledge has something to offer to the world. The WHO and UNAIDS , too, have been running programmes to support and integrate traditional medicine into national health systems, a fact which doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Increasingly, patients can now receive modern and/or traditional treatments from certified specialists if they wish, in an environment that allows modern medical doctors and certified traditional practitioners to coexist and collaborate, for example in some of Kenya’s hospitals.
In spite of the good services of many competent practitioners in Africa, though, decades of continuous disparagement from modern medicine, the Churches, school education, etc. have created a tendency to believe that anything foreign is better than the local tradition. Just a few days ago, some practitioners complained on the international radio station Africa No. 1 in Libreville (Gabon) that they are now facing new competition from foreign healers, especially from China, whom some patients tend to prefer in spite of much higher rates, while they themselves can also offer good cures for even less money.
On the other hand, the settings in which the healers used to practice no longer exist in quite the same way, at least in modern urban centres, which can make it difficult to identify good practitioners or sellers of herbal medicine and avoid those which are not trustworthy. For a good integration of traditional medicine into modern national health systems, adequate legislation and support from the authorities are needed , but also information for the wider public. Let us hope mentalities continue to evolve, and that the healers, too, live up to the expectations of patients by organizing themselves well and making it difficult for imposters to join their ranks.
 Cf. Integration of herbal medicine in national health care of developing countries , East African Health Journal, Oct. 2004.