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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2013 Sep;46(3):386-94. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2012.08.005. Epub 2012 Nov 11.

Traditional healers' views of the required processes for a "good death" among Xhosa patients pre- and post-death.

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  • 1Palliative Care Programme, Division of Family Medicine, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa.



South Africa faces enormous HIV-related mortality and increasing cancer incidence. Traditional healers are the preferred source of advice and care in Africa, and this is true for the large Xhosa ethnic group.


To provide more appropriate multidimensional, culturally suitable care at the end of life; this study aimed to identify the care needs and cultural practices of Xhosa patients and families at the end of life, from the perspective of traditional healers.


The study design was qualitative and cross-sectional. The research took place in a 300 km radius around East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa. Interviewees were Xhosa individuals who were recognized by their communities as traditional healers. Data from two focus groups and eight individual interviews were analyzed, using an inductive thematic approach.


Data were elicited around the facilitation of a good death in terms of care needs before death and important rituals after death. Care needs before death focused on relief of psychosocial suffering; the importance of the spoken word at the deathbed; and the importance of a relationship and spiritual connection at the end of life. There were broad similarities across the rituals described after death, but these rituals were recognized to differ according to family customs or the dying person's wishes.


Awareness of potential needs at the end of life can assist clinicians to understand the choices of their patients and develop effective end-of-life care plans that improve the outcomes for patients and families.

Copyright © 2013 U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Africa; End of life; culture; death; traditional healer; traditional medicine

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