Zanzibar’s traditional healers: How alternative medicine is growing in Tanzania
Patients say they trust traditional healers more than the overcrowded, underfunded public hospitals
Zanzibar’s traditional healers, with their toolkits of herbs, holy scriptures and massages are being registered by authorities keen to regulate the practitioners who treat everything from depression to hernias.
About 340 healers have been registered since Zanzibar, a region of Tanzania, passed the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act in 2009. An estimated 2,000 more healers, or mgangas, are hoping to register, says Hassan Combo, the government registrar at the council that records them.
Mgangas must be aged at least 18, have at least three years of experience and have a recommendation letter from a trained mganga. A council of 11 members that can include birth attendants, respected healers, village elders and lawyers approve applications each month.
While the government does not dictate healers’ methods, it tries to work with them on quality control. Doctors are linked up with traditional healers to give them some medical education on diseases like hypertension, diabetes and pregnancy while the mgangas share information about patient statistics and needs.
Some healers use herbs. Others use scriptures from the Muslim holy book, the Koran. Most use both. Belief in supernatural spirits like djinns features strongly.
Fatawi Haji Hafidh, manager at Makunduchi Hospital, the second largest government-run hospital on Zanzibar’s main island, says overstretched doctors and nurses may not have the time to see patients or the diagnostic equipment.
Patients may also be unable to afford the medicine prescribed or they may stop taking it before the course is finished, leading them to relapse and adding to their suspicion of government-run facilities, he said.
Many simply believe djinns are the problem.
Writing by Katharine Houreld