Nam in bid to rein in traditional healers
Windhoek – Foreign traditional healers plying their trade in Namibia are in for a rude awakening once new legislation on the practice of traditional medicine, which is under debate in parliament, is passed.
Recently, Health and Social Services Minister, Dr Richard Kamwi, tabled the Traditional Health Practitioners Bill in parliament that seeks to regulate the practice of traditional medicine in the Southern African state.
With the new legislation, Namibia has taken steps to regulate the practice of traditional healing, which will bring the country on a par with the international best practice of incorporating traditional medicine into national health systems.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised concern that many countries, mostly in Africa ‑ where a large percentage of the population depends on traditional medicine for primary health care ‑ do not have national policies for traditional medicine.
The issue was given international prominence in 2009, when the United Nations’ World Health Assembly adopted a resolution that recognised traditional medicine as one of the resources of primary healthcare services that could contribute to the well-being of people across the globe.
Traditional medicine was abolished in Namibia before independence. Although the practice was later recognised as a primary health care approach by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, there is no legislation in place that regulates traditional healing.
Traditional medicine practitioners in Namibia, many of whom come from other African countries, are not currently regulated and operate without proper guidelines from health authorities.
This legislation vacuum has on numerous occasions been highlighted in the media, as desperate members of the public have been cheated out of thousands of dollars and abused by unscrupulous traditional healers and herbalists most of them foreigners.
Some traditional healers have even been suspected of putting the lives of their patients at risk. A classic example is that of an Angolan national, Bonifatius Mbwale ‑ a traditional healer, who was imprisoned for infecting his female patients with HIV.
He was convicted in the Oshakati Magistrate’s Court on several charges of rape after luring his female patients into believing that his manhood had “special powers” to cure their ailments.
The Traditional Health Practitioners Bill provides for the establishment of the Traditional Health Practitioners Council of Namibia, under which traditional healers are going to be registered and certified.
Foreign healers, who wish to practice in Namibia, would be required to provide credentials or proof of registration with a recognised body or health organisation in their country of origin in order to qualify for registration with the Traditional Health Practitioners Council.
“Without proof of registration from their home country, they won’t be allowed to register and to operate in Namibia,” says Ester Paulus, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
Motivating for the new Bill in National Assembly, Minister Kamwi noted that the legislation has been in the offing for some time.
He emphasised that once legislated, no traditional healer will be allowed to practice unless he/she is registered with government.
“Any person who contravenes this clause is guilty of a criminal offence,” Minister Kamwi said. “For more serious offences, a court may impose a fine of up to R20 000 or imprisonment for a period of five years, or both,” the minister said.
The Traditional Health Practitioners Bill will also prescribe measures, including barring traditional healers from carrying out diagnosis or treatment of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and cancer.
Despite the good intention of the legislation, there were misconceptions among some lawmakers in the National Assembly, including Defence Minister Nahas Angula who is of the opinion that the government will have a tough time trying to rein in the traditional healing practice, which is mostly conducted in secret.
However, veteran opposition politician, Philemon Moongo of DTA of Namibia supported the legislation, stressing that the certification will help root out unscrupulous traditional healers, who use trickery on desperate Namibians.