Kenyans urged to shun traditional healing for children

Thursday July 31 2014

A herbalist explaining the healing properties of his medicine. A study has shown that many Kenyans in rural areas still rely on traditional and spiritual healers for treatment of children under five years. This has greatly hampered the fight against child mortality. PHOTO | FILE

A herbalist explaining the healing properties of his medicine. A study has shown that many Kenyans in rural areas still rely on traditional and spiritual healers for treatment of children under five years. FILE PHOTO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JAMES KARIUKI
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Researchers want Kenyans to stop solely relying on prayers and highly popular herbal concoctions to treat ailments affecting children under five years.

In a paper published in PLOsOne.Org website, researchers say Kenyans are endangering the lives of their children by seeking spiritual and traditional herbal treatments for pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria.

The study said there was a need for concerted campaign across all rural areas to discourage residents from seeking advice and help from spiritual healers as well as traditional herbalists saying this was a major cause of infant morbidity and even deaths.

Interviews conducted mainly in Homa Bay County in Nyanza region found that residents strongly believed in spiritual healers and would readily pay for such services but would find it difficult to spend any monies to travel to far flung health centres to seek medical services.

“Religious beliefs were influential, not only in the prohibition of herbal medicine, but some denominations reportedly prevented treatment-seeking at health facilities.

SOUGHT SPIRITUAL HEALERS

Many confirmed that they prayed to God or sought the services of a spiritual healer, but that this was often done in combination with other treatment options,’ it says.

In 2009, Nyanza, which borders Lake Victoria in the West of Kenya, had the highest under five mortality rate in the country at 149 deaths per 1,000 live births, representing 33,826 deaths annually, or 33% of all child deaths in Kenya.

The research entitled, Local Barriers and Solutions to Improve Care-Seeking for Childhood Pneumonia, Diarrhoea and Malaria in Kenya, Nigeria and Niger says there is a need to empower women to make family decisions unlike the in current setup where mothers have to wait for their husbands to make the decision on where to seek treatment.

UNTESTED CONCOCTIONS

The report says that many people prefer to manage illnesses at home and at best seek untested concoctions from traditional healers.

This could best be solved if locals were encouraged to discard such beliefs that prevent parents from taking their children to hospitals.

It notes that unfriendly health workers who also charge 'false’ fees have dealt a severe blow to the world’s campaign to reduce infant mortality rates.

Data collection was conducted over twelve days in three specific field sites agreed in collaboration with the Homa Bay District Health Management Team: Ndiru (Homa Bay District); Marindi (Ndhiwa District); and Lambwe (Mbita District).

Each of these sites included remote communities that were reachable only on foot.

In Kenya, herbal medicine has become an important commercial venture that has seen many providers take to the streets with blaring loud speakers to sell various herbal drugs in liquid, powder and ointment’ form.