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Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 1999 Sep;3(9):838-42.

Traditional healers as tuberculosis treatment supervisors: precedent and potential.

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  • 1South Australian Centre for Rural and Remote Health, University of South Australia, Whyalla Norrie, Australia.



Hlabisa, South Africa.


To determine precedent and potential for traditional healers to act as tuberculosis (TB) treatment supervisors.


Literature review to describe precedent for the involvement of traditional healers in TB treatment supervision. Interviews with 100 TB patients to determine use of healers and their acceptability as supervisors. Interviews with 24 healers in the project sub-district to determine willingness to act as supervisors.


Despite extensive literature on the interaction between traditional healers and conventional health services, including descriptions of traditional understandings of TB, no published work was identified that reported supervision of TB patients by traditional healers. Of 100 patients interviewed, only 10% had used a healer as the first health provider for their illness, but 40% had attended a healer at some time prior to diagnosis. Although only 4% believe healers can cure TB, 84% would consider choosing a healer as a treatment supervisor. Of the 24 healers, 15 (63%) distinguished between two types of diagnosis made among patients with symptoms suggestive of TB: TB and idliso. Idliso is poisoning or bewitching, and is said to be best cured by healers, while TB is infectious and cannot be cured by healers. Most healers (88%) reported having referred patients with possible TB to hospital in the past; all were keen to negotiate collaboration with health services, and 92% were willing to act as treatment supervisors.


While there is little reported precedent for traditional healers to interact formally with tuberculosis treatment services, the potential for collaboration seems to be high, at least in our setting.

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