Traditional medicine clinic doing very well

Swazi people just love their muti, and tinyanga (traditional healers) are still as popular as ever even in this era of western modern style medicine.
Tinyanga know exactly that people of Swaziland have a weakness when it comes to traditional herbs, medicines and treatment although they say many of their clients are still shy to come out in the open. 
The Emvembili Traditional Clinic, whose overseer is Busisiwe Makhabane, is one institution with a huge traffic of patients with all sorts of illnesses, ranging from skin lesions to TB and HIV related infections visit on a daily basis.

In view of this, Makhabane implored government and its development partners to assist in further scientific research of traditional medicine. The World Health Organisation (WHO), in its traditional medicine strategy, advocates for the proper use of traditional medicine and integrating this into national health systems.
But has this strategy which was printed in 2002 trickled down to the Swaziland setting a country, where many people still strongly believe in indigenous herbs? Makhabane and other tinyanga (traditional healers) strongly feel there is still a lot that needs to be done in this regard to implement the strategy.
Emvembili is a small rural community situated in the northern Hhohho region of Swaziland, about 50km away from the Matsamo Border Post separating Swaziland and South Africa. Makhabane, a fully fledged inyanga and member of Traditional Healers Organisation (THO), whose president is well known Nhlavana Maseko, attested to the strong belief that local Swazi people have in traditional medicine. 

In a country ravaged by AIDS and Tuberculosis - the two major causes of death in Swaziland, it still remains a little wonder that many people would rather have their sicknesses, even those related to HIV, attended to by traditional healers.

But despite the evident popularity of traditional medicine, there is still a deep lack of integration between western style hospitals and the traditional ones in Swaziland. 
“You probably will not believe this, but a huge fraction of our patients come to consult with us even after receiving medical attention from modern day clinics,” Makhabane said.

She observed that Swazi people still have unwavering confidence in tinyanga “which shows the important role played by traditional medicine in local health systems even in modern day society”.  But Swazi tinyanga are worried that their work has not gained much needed recognition from government, and through their umbrella body - the Traditional Healers Organisation (THO), they are calling for serious recognition from government and the United Nations (UN).
It emerged during the interview with traditional healers at the Emvembili clinic that it is not just rural folk who consult tinyanga, but even sophisticated individuals with lucrative incomes in the urban setting still have strong belief in traditional herbs.

“I will not disclose my clients and those of other traditional healers I work closely with, but I am proud to tell you that I often attend to high ranking individuals in society,” she said.
Traditional healers affiliating to THO, an organisation whose membership exceeds 8 000, sometimes work with the ministry of health. The ministry made an attempt to integrate traditional and western health systems by ensuring tinyanga received basic training in primary health care, although they feel this is not enough.

The cadre of healers affiliating to THO allude to that traditional medicine cannot operate in isolation of the modern health system.

“As traditional healers, we admit that there are ailments we cannot handle, like those that involve HIV, TB and AIDS related illnesses. We always advise our clients with symptoms similar to the ones people develop when they are HIV positive to check their HIV status,” another inyanga, who is an aide to Makhabane said.

In addition, he said: “There was a huge mistake traditional healers committed in the past and that was claiming they could heal AIDS. Many people died in the hands of such tinyanga. People who would have survived if they had been initiated on Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART)”.
When sought for comment, Minister of Education Benedict Xaba admitted that government had not yet come up with a full strategy to deal with traditional healers.

“Even though we occasionally hold meetings with tinyanga, but there is no full strategy in place yet”.
 Xaba pointed out that his ministry recognises traditional healers, especially those who are members of THO.

What some had to say about traditional medicine

Nyangamfana Thwala:
“When my grandson was two years old, he fell seriously ill. He suffered from a strange disease and was in extreme pain as he had swollen feet and a swollen tummy.
“At some point, we thought he would never survive this illness and my family was distraught as his mother had also died when he was a baby.

“I personally took him to many hospitals, but doctors failed to diagnose him with any sickness, they simply did not know what was wrong with him despite the several medical tests they conducted.
“In one of the modern hospitals, a doctor told me in the face that our family should brace itself for the worst because chances of my grandson’s recovery were slim. In those days, I had a strange dream whereby I was instructed to take him to the Emvembili Traditional Clinic.
“In the dream, I was told to specifically speak to Busisiwe Makhabane, the overseer and I was informed that she would have a solution to my grandson’s illness.
“Strangely, when I arrived at the clinic Makhabane told me she was expecting me as the ancestral spirits had informed her of my son’s illness.
“She quickly prepared a cocktail of herbs. I do not know to this day what the herbs she used were, but my grandson recovered from that day.”

Mamiza Masilela:
“For many years I was seriously sick, and the lower part of my body was all swollen. I also had painful blisters all over my body.
“I was so sick that I could hardly walk or do any physical activity. I went to modern hospitals and clinics, but no medication they gave me ever helped.
“The Emvembili Traditional Clinic really helped me a lot when I came seeking for help.
“I was given traditional herbs to drink and they really helped me.”

Brief tour of the Emvembili Traditional Clinic

The Emvembili Traditional Clinic is not your average Inyanga’s (traditional healer’s) house.
One would expect the infrastructure to be the typical thatched mud and grass huts popularly known as indumba (traditional healer’s consultation room) strongly favoured by Swazi muti men, but instead the clinic is made of a four-roomed house.

Although there are no stethoscopes or medical equipment in any of the clinic’s four rooms, it has its own level of sophistication reminiscent of an average western style clinic.
The four rooms are clearly demarcated, and each has a specific function. The first room serves as a reception, whilst the one adjacent is used as a dispensary.
The inner room is used as a consultation room. All forms of concoctions can be found in the dispensary, and they are kept in uniform clearly labelled containers. Busisiwe Makhabane, the clinic’s overseer, explained that she does not throw the bones inside the clinic, which is why it is a modern facility.

Healers treating patients with no money

Contrary to popular belief that traditional healers do not attend to patients with no money because their ancestral spirits do not accept such, the Emvembili Traditional Clinic accepts such patients.
“Because we are based in a rural setting, most of our clients are extremely poor people who often do not have money, but we never turn them away.

“The president of our Traditional Healers Organisation Nhlavana Maseko often strongly speaks against turning away patients with no money.
“He believes that no life should be lost because there was no money to pay at the clinic,” said the overseer Busisiwe Makhabane.

In fact two of the interviewed patients Nyangamfana Thwala and Mamiza Masilela did not have money when they were treated, but they later sent tokens of appreciation to the inyanga for giving them herbs that healed them.

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