Research Findings on health in Humanitarian Crisis conducted in Liberia has identified the useful contribution Traditional Healers play in society.
By Jos Garneo Cephas – The research is an outshout of investigation of the role of Liberian Traditional Healers in the Outbreak of Ebola in the country and it was conducted by an independent, non-governmental, research-based Liberian peace building organization, Platform for Dialogue and Peace(P4DP)- an organization that is committed to making Liberia become a society based on good governance and broader civic participation.
The Executive Director of Platform for Dialogue and Peace, James Shilue said: “The research was necessary because it is widely believed that cultural and religious practices play active role in the way people socialize and sought protection during the EVD.
He further argued that despite living in a society where traditional health practitioners are seen as people’s first recourse and last resort for health care, there has not been concrete effort to understand the role traditional Healers (THs) play in public health sector.
According to Director Shilue, given the limited access to primary health care infrastructures in Liberia, there is a need to understand how modern and traditional medicines could complement each other. He asserted that “we can only build a resilient health sector by understanding the capacities and challenges confronting Liberia’s traditional healing systems”.
Mr. Shilue made the statement recently in Monrovia, at the end of a two day validation workshop organized by P4DP with participation of key biomedical practitioners, policy makers, CSO members, international partners, the government as well representatives from the various counties where the research was conducted.
The research was piloted in nine of the fifteen counties of Liberia involving 357 participants- 56 Key informants’ interviews, (KIIs,) 56 participants- 35 males & 21 Females and 27 Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) comprising 301 participants- 154 males & 147 females.
Funded by Welcome trust, ELHRA and UK aid, P4DP in collaboration with Research for Health in Humanitarian Crisis (R2HC) and Save the Children, explored the extent to which local populations are utilizing and relying on traditional healers. The study further investigated how traditional healers understood the EVD and their capacities to cope with it.
As part of its findings, the study found out that THs are very active in addressing various illnesses, including blindness, Chronic stomach pain, Measles, Elephantiasis, Epilepsy, vomiting with blood, paralysis, prolong pregnancy, Madness, Mental illness, Impotency, pad, sore, Gowah, Bone fracture, Nyakanfoe, Fever, Open mode, miscarriage. Interestingly, the study noted some nuances in different regions. For example, compared to their male counterparts, it was observed at most.
THs in Lofa, Bassa, Nimba, R-Cess counties are predominantly involved with pediatrics healing and madness, especially involving adults and adolescence. Also women were said to be more involved with pediatrics and fertility cases.
The research also sought to understand perception and local theories of Ebola as a way of future containment. In this regards, localize names and understanding of Ebola were documented.
Example, Ebola is known as Zukpan’ in the Vai dialect, which means family destroyer while in Lofa most respondents described it as Zeaweleh- a sickness that is equated to Cholera that once attacked the County.
Similarly, in Bomi it is known as Bombo while most respondents in Bong County referred to it as Jukpeh and in Bassa ‘America Diversity Visa (DV)’- because if one member of a household catches it, there is a high possibility of affecting every member of the household.
In an attempt to understand what motivates people to seek treatments with THs, the researchers spoke to various service users. The study found out that most services users preference for THs and spiritual healers is based on the fact that these health providers do not request pre-payment before offering services.
Another reason is THs and SHs offer special attention such as caring, feeding. Sometime THs share knowledge about herbs use to cure illness and there is generally ‘No sick-man walk to Doctor Scenario as with biomedical treatment’.
Contrary to uncorroborated opinion that THs are not willing to work with biomedical counterparts, the research discovered that there is a desire for recognition and collaboration with biomedical practitioners. Findings show that THs are working in parallel direction. “Some sicknesses medical practitioners don’t see, we see it and pray.
I also take medicine when I am sick and refer patients to hospital at times”. Ironically while there is a general willingness for collaboration, the study noticed little ambivalence in the willingness for THs to take vaccine. The highly impressive power point presentation shows various reasons while there are apprehensions to take vaccine.
“ I have not taken injection for over 30 years, hence I will not take it. Yet I will not stop people from taking it because it is a good idea”. Others THs consulted said that they will consult the spirit for approval while others will ask the Lord not to even take it because the way Ebola came is not yet clear.
The Director of Custom and Culture Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, William Jallah, reiterated that the research was very essential for the ministry as this will enable the ministry to constructively engage the sector while also promising to work with P4DP to further expand the study in other counties as well as assist the ministry to undertake specific studies with traditional healers and leaders.
The Ministry of Health Representative, Dr. Quaioba said “I am very excited and pleased that this is the first time such good work is done to show what the sector has to offer and the usual marginalization the sector suffers will now be given good attention.
I will ensure that the Ministry works with P4DP and from now, people should know that traditional medicine is very useful and plays very big role in our country health care system”
As for WHO Country Director Representative, Mrs. Luwaga Liliane, she lauded Platform for Dialogue and Peace for the research and expressed interest for collaboration in making the findings and recommendations useful for Liberia.
“This study is quite useful and interesting and WHO values such effort, especially the desire for collaboration as expressed in the study. WHO has a clear strategy for traditional medicine, therefore there is possibility for WHO to support this kind of initiative.
So, please share the full report with us, when ready as we want traditional medicine and modern medicine to work together to improve the health care systems in Liberia hence I am sure we will work closely.”
WHO Social Mobilization Consultant, Mrs. Liliane, who deputized for her Boss said: “We will support the integration of tradition medicine in the health deliverance of Liberia. She expressed appreciation and lauded the role that traditional medicine continues to play in promoting the health of the various communities.
Samaritan Purse representative joined his colleagues in congratulating P4DP and assured the research organization that his organization has keen interest in the study and will surely like further engagement.
Speaking on behalf of his colleague from the nine counties, traditional chief and head of Cultural Affairs, Bong county, Jukon Kuoun said “today I am a happy man and all I want is to ask the government and international community to support this organization to do more studies while we ask for the institutionalization of traditional medicine”.
The Operations Manager of the Research, Godfrey Eloho, called for greater collaboration among all stakeholders including government and partners to ensure the implementation of the desire goals of bringing the activities of traditional healers to mainstream practice in the country.
“The activities of traditional healers have been considered secret practice; this research is the first of its kind in Liberia.”
Mr. Eloho observed that the outbreak of Ebola in Liberia posed a major challenge to both biomedical and the traditional healers and therefore urge every sector to strive for collaboration. He said: “Understanding between Biomedical Practitioners and the Traditional Healers, seen to be a shadow area and therefore, there is need for collaboration because countries like Ghana, Nigeria, China, and others have a great marry between the Biomedical and Traditional Healers making it convenience for progress.”
He called for proper documentation and regulations of the activities to promote and publicize and protect botanical plants and other plants to boost the sector.
P4DP partnered with several entities in conducting the study, including the Liberia Ministry of Internal Affairs, CSO Secretariat on Natural Resources Management, University of Exeter-U.K., Traditional Council of Chiefs and Inter Religious Council of Liberia.