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Outrage as traditional healers prescribe drugs

Caswell Tlali

MASERU –– Daggers are drawn between traditional healers and medical doctors.
Medical doctors are accusing traditional healers of improperly prescribing modern medicines to patients.
The medical doctors say the healers are no longer sticking to their “roots, leaves and concoctions”.
They say the traditional healers are illegally prescribing modern drugs despite the fact that they are not registered or qualified to do so.
The prescription of some specific drugs is the responsibility of registered medical doctors.
Not even nurses are allowed to prescribe some of the drugs.
Even pharmacists are not allowed to prescribe medicines.
It is illegal for someone who is not a medical doctor to prescribe some medicine.
One needs to be trained in the uses of drugs, their effects, side effects, precautions during use and the proper dosage.
But traditional healers are saying they are “doctors” too and that they will continue prescribing medicine to patients.
Medical doctors claim they often treat patients whose illnesses would have been exacerbated after taking wrong drugs prescribed by some traditional healers in Lesotho.
The doctors say the council of medical doctors and nurses should act before the situation gets out of hand and people are killed.
A medical doctor who runs a private surgery in Maseru said traditional healers stock drugs and medical equipment without modern scientific knowledge of how they should be used to treat certain illnesses.
Dr ’Molotsi Monyamane said even trained nurses do not have the authority to prescribe certain drugs let alone traditional healers who have not attended any medical school.
“It is wrong and unacceptable that traditional healers prescribe modern medicines to patients,” said Monyamane.
“They should stick to their traditional way of healing through divination without touching any of the medicines that should be prescribed by us proper doctors.”
He urged the Lesotho Medical Practitioners Council to act.
Monyamane said the council should remember that it is a statutory body whose duty is to ensure that the medical profession’s integrity is protected.
“Nobody should be allowed to practise as a doctor unless he is registered with the council,” he said.
“The traditional healers have not registered with our council and they should be stopped from acting like they are doctors.
“They should go to school and learn medicine if they want to be doctors.”
He said traditional medicine usually has strong roots in superstition and spiritualism which are not compatible with modern science.
He called for scientific research into traditional herbal remedies for greater recognition and acceptance of traditional healers.
Medical doctors also say the health ministry should take steps to stop “unqualified persons from giving medical drugs” to patients.
A clinician who runs a health centre in Maseru told the Sunday Express that she recently treated two patients who came to her very sick after being treated by a traditional healer.
Mpho Maitin said the two patients came to her with swollen bellies and reported that they had taken medicine given to them by traditional healers in two different instances.
“These traditional healers are putting lives at risk,” Maitin said.
“I treated two patients here whose bellies had swollen after a traditional healer gave them drugs that were supposed to be prescribed by a professional medical doctor only.”
“Some come here very sick after being injected by these traditional healers,” she added.
Maitin said healers buy syringes, needles and some drugs such as penicillin, insulin and others over the counter at pharmacies.
“One of the traditional healers whom I knew used to inject patients with methylated spirit,” she said.
“This healer started practising this a long time ago when I was still at college and he did it until he died.
“He would not do it if he did not have access to syringes and needles.”
Maitin said the problem was that the law did not prevent anybody from buying syringes and needles from any medical equipment dealer.
“Herbalists and traditional healers can buy some drugs and equipment from pharmacies,” she said.
She condemned traditional medicine as unhygienic and superstitious quackery.
Traditional healers, however, dismiss the doctors’ concerns.
President of the Lesotho Traditional Medical Practitioners Association (LTMPA) Malefetsane Lepheana told the Sunday Express in an interview that doctors accusing them of encroaching into their territory were “talking nonsense”.
Lepheana, who boasted of having a stethoscope and access to drugs over the counter at pharmacies, said healers have a right to treat their patients according to any skill they have acquired.
“Whoever is saying we should not put our acquired skills in practice is talking nonsense,” Lepheana said.
“If a traditional healer is planning to develop his practice he should be allowed to use whatever knowledge he has.”
“There is no crime in that,” he added.
Lepheana said he spent two years working with a medical doctor and when the doctor was away he would attend to patients.
“I acquired some knowledge during that time and I am putting it to good use,” he said.
Lepheana said he stocks medicines from pharmacies and give them to his patients.
He said some of the patients he treats with medicines bought over the counter in pharmacies have high or low blood pressure and sugar diabetes while others have cancer or heart diseases.
He said some traditional healers have spiritual visions and callings to use stethoscopes and other medical equipment.
These ones, Lepheana said, have a right to follow their callings and treat their patients the way the spirits have instructed. 

Lepheana accused the Ministry of Health of reluctance to allow the exchange of patients between medical doctors and traditional healers.
“There are some diseases these doctors cannot cure which we can and they can cure some which we cannot,” he said.
“The government should make a policy allowing the exchange of patients.”
Lepheane said he would like to see a blending of traditional and modern medicine, citing the cooperation between practitioners in both groups in China and India.
He claimed to have cured ailments where hospital treatment had failed.
“Some hospitals in South Africa invite me to see their patients because they understand that there are some illnesses I can cure which they have failed to cure,” Lepheane claimed.
He however said some  healers were becoming greedy and others were just using any medicine they can get even if they don’t understand the dangers.
Efforts to contact the Lesotho Council of Medical Practitioners failed.

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