Alternative/Traditional Medicine

Doctors for Life would like to re-affirm our commitment to promoting holistic health to all the people of South Africa in a scientifically sound and morally accountable way. Representing over one thousand five hundred health practitioners, we stand for the practice of medicine that is based on evidence and the highest ethics. We are of the opinion that any form of medicine that is not based on empirical evidence is potentially (and ultimately) harmful to patients in need. As was stated during our presentation before the parliamentary committee on Traditional Health Practitioners (in February 1998), we are of the opinion, based on research and many testimonies of fellow South Africans, that:

  1. Traditional medical practices have, over time, not improved the survival of children or mothers in birth or patients.
  2. Most of the medicines used by traditional practitioners have not been validated scientifically.
  3. Many people suffer because of the serious complications (side-effects) that arise due to the use of traditional medicines.
  4. As stated by the World Health Organization (WHO), most traditional health practitioners make use of “intangible forces” (“spirits”) in their practice of healing.
  5. Traditional healers (at least African traditional healers) are priests of the religious system of African Traditional Religion (ATR), and function as such. To grant them the status of health professionals without doing the same to office bearers of other religions would be discriminatory against other religions.
  6. Occult powers are used in most (the WHO says in all) of the therapeutic acts of traditional healers.
  7. Traditional healers make their diagnosis (and therapeutic combinations) with the aid of “spirits” and under the control of the “spirits”.
  8. Most traditional healers are “called” by the “spirits” to become healers.
  9. The licensing of traditional healers will have a negative impact on the economy of South Africa, with regards to giving people time off work for long periods, as often required by the “ancestral spirits”.
  10. African traditional healing often is progressive by nature: according to reports, traditional healers often resort to human sacrifice after trying all other herbal prescriptions on patients in vain. “Like any other business, the aim of this trade is to make profits. Because the traditional healer needs more money and does not want to admit failure, he will prescribe something more difficult for the patient; such as looking for a child to sacrifice in order to cure their illness.”

We feel strongly that The Traditional Health Practitioners Bill is a mechanism that:

  1. cannot regulate the spirit world,
  2. cannot control the communication between “ancestral spirits” and the healers,
  3. cannot ensure safety for the public against the detrimental affects of traditional

It is irrational to allow the regulation of the use of medicines that have not been scientifically validated. This does not appear responsible, sensible or reasonable. While the Bill proposes that the Council will make rules pertaining to traditional medicines that will “protect the public”, we fail to understand how the public will be protected if the healers are still allowed to use medicines that have not been validated scientifically.
While we recognise the positive intention of the Bill, we fail to see how it will “ensure quality of health care” if traditional health practitioners are still allowed to use medicines that are prescribed by the “spirits” (as happens predominantly with African traditional

We consider it our medical and scientific responsibility to ask this sober question: “How can we regulate what is not yet proven to be right and reliable therapeutic options?!” Should we not first research what is claimed to be remedies before we regulate it?
In the present format of the Bill we also cannot see (despite the definition) how “unprofessional conduct” will be determined. Will it be unprofessional to use vaginal secretions for making a traditional remedy (as is the practice with some healers)? Will it be unprofessional to use scrapings from the armpits? Or is it only unprofessional to use
medicines that have not been researched and validated yet?

We are convinced that passing this Bill will open “a can of worms” of legal controversies and implications. One example would be the question as to whether traditional healers will be authorized to issue death certificates.

As Doctors for Life International, we are committed to be part of the solution and not part of the problem and would therefore like to request of the government to further investigate the ramifications of passing such a Bill before voting on it.