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Ads Spark Traditional Medicine Debate in Senengal

A Nigerian traditional healer who goes by the name of "Papa Magic Pot" may appear more comical than threatening. However, he and several other Nigerian healers have caused consternation in Senegal.
Abdou Faye

In recent months, those who tuned into private radio stations in the capital, Dakar, might have heard Papa Magic Pot – also "Dr Kekere", "Dr Fatiha", "Dr Teni" and others – advertising their ability to cure all manner of ills, even AIDS and diabetes.

These claims, some clearly suspect, have angered local healers – and given new impetus to efforts to push through a law for regulating the activities of traditional healers.

"Only through such a law can true traditional healers be distinguished from the charlatans," Adja Boury Niang, president of the Association for the Promotion of Traditional Medicine (Association pour la promotion de la médecine traditionnelle, PROMETRA), told IPS.

"The charlatans advertise on the radio, claiming they are traditional healers and that they can cure anything...that they can even raise the . Enough is enough," Niang said.

Added PROMETRA member and pharmacist Sadia Faty, "Traditional medicine has its limits. It cannot treat every disease, contrary to what certain healers – the charlatans – say. They should be tried for false advertising, more so because they endanger lives."

A bill regulating the practice of traditional medicine has been in the pipeline for over two years. In March 2002, a committee of people who work in the field of traditional healing gave the proposed law the green light; this paved the way for its submission in April 2003 to cabinet, for approval.

The bill has languished in cabinet ever since. A source close to Prime Minister Macky Sall’s office says a census of all traditional healers in the country must take place before the bill can be put to the vote in parliament.

A survey conducted earlier this year by the Ministry of Health and Preventive Care has already shown that there are 630 traditional healers in eight of Senegal’s eleven provinces.

Alioune Aw, head of the office of traditional medicine at the Ministry of Health, says the new law – when finally passed – will lead to the creation of a National Council of Traditional Healers (Conseil national des tradipraticiens, CNT).

Much as Senegal’s national association of doctors regulates the activities of physicians, the CNT would draw up a code of ethics for traditional healers.

All practicing healers would be required to have cards issued by the CNT identifying them as healers. The council would also work towards a formal recognition of traditional healing as a profession.

At present, says Hervé Delauture of the Enda Third World non-governmental organisation, traditional medicine still suffers from the reputation it acquired under colonialism of being an inferior method of treating illnesses. (Enda Third World, based in Dakar, promotes economic and social development.)

The activities of charlatans do nothing to improve this situation, adds Delauture. He would ultimately like to see an arrangement where traditional healers have offices in hospital facilities to ensure that health services are extended to as many people as possible.

The proposed law will prohibit false advertising on the part of healers, and specify techniques to be used in the practice of traditional medicine. Healers would need to follow a certain procedure, for example, in labeling the treatments they give to their patients.

Dosages for herbal remedies and the like would be stipulated. In addition, the healers would also receive training on the dangers of combining their treatments with conventional medicines.

Until the law has wound its way through government, however, local healers can do little more than protest about the activities of Papa Magic Pot and others.

A march was staged in Dakar on Sep. 4, African Traditional Medicine Day, to demonstrate against the activities of charlatans. At the end of the demonstration healers handed a memorandum to a representative of the National Assembly, calling on parliamentarians to pass the law on traditional medicine.

The High Council for Audio-Visual Media, an official media watchdog, has also tried to discourage radio stations from airing misleading adverts by healers – but cannot enforce these warnings. Following the outcry on the part of local practitioners however, foreign healers appear to have halted the adverts of their own accord.

While practitioners of traditional medicine from countries other than Nigeria have also taken up residence in Senegal, they have not attracted the same type of condemnation that the Nigerian healers have. IPS was not able to get comment from foreign healers on their reaction to statements by PROMETRA and other groups.

According to the World Health Organisation, 80 percent of Africans consult traditional healers for their basic medical needs – many because they are unable to afford conventional treatment.

The 2004 Human Development Report, published by the United Nations Development Programme, says that about 26 percent of Senegalese live below the poverty line of a dollar a day. (Source: Inter
Press Service)

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