ALTERNATIVE HEALING SYSTEMS IN GHANA: PATTERNS OF UTILIZATION.
To explain why and how Ghanaians use alternative healing systems.
Perceptions about non-allopathic healing
Types of non-allopathic healing
The Ghanaian cosmological notions
Types of healers and health problems they deal with
Hierarchy of resort
MEDICINE AS A CULTURAL UNIVERSAL
Humankind’s incessant quest to respond to the challenges of restoration and maintenance of health led to the development of the health institution.
Human kind has devised various modes of health-seeking–from the primitive to the modern
Interest in traditional medicine:
– early explorers and missionaries;
– early anthropologists;
– latter-day anthropologists and health policy makers (After Second World War).
TRADITIONAL MEDICINE DEFINED
According to WHO (1978)TM is “all knowledge and practices used in diagnosis, prevention and treatment of physical, mental or social imbalance which rely mainly on practical ancestral experience and observation handed down verbally or in writing”
Charles Good (1987) defines TM as “a system encompassing folk knowledge and beliefs, traditions, symbols and values related to health, illness and disease; a society’s causal theories and taxonomies of sickness; supportive social institutions and recognized specialists……”
NON-ALLOPATHIC HEALING SYSTEMS
Ayurveda in India
Unani tibi in Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Chinese medicine (Yin and Yang- balancing of humours);
Voodoo Cults in the Caribbean and Africa (Orisha and Sango cults), juju, fetish, etc
Shiatsu medicine in Japan.
NON-ALLOPATHIC SYSTEMS (Contd)
POPULAR PERCEPTIONS OF INDIGENOUS MEDICINE
“They serve the fetish like all Negroes in this area. The only remarkable thing about them is that on this mountain, there is a number of cheap harlots who cannot marry. The fetish they say, has initiated them into this sinful life. The religion of the people is really nothing less than a devil’s institution, a cover for all evil and sin.” (Rev. Stanger, 1851)
POPULAR PERCEPTIONS OF INDIGENOUS MEDICINE (Contd)
“Indigenous or traditional medicine is fundamentally based on primitive theories which over the years have been condoned by ignorance, sanctioned by superstition and sustained by belief in magic and witchcraft.” (Fmr. Head, Dept of Medicine, UGMS).
POPULAR PERCEPTIONS OF INDIGENOUS MEDICINE (Contd)
Today some Ghanaians question why we as a people should still be discussing indigenous healing which should properly belong to history:
Others see indigenous healing as hindrance to medical progress
- We look down on our own cultural practices
including our local names;
- We look down on indigenous healers and blame them for many of our health problems.
- Newspapers often carry headlines such as
Fetish priestess builds a church
Fetish priest rapes a 5 yr. old girl
Fetish priest goes to school
Fetish priest in a murder case; etc
REFERENCES TO INDIGENOUS HEALING
As a fallout from earlier perceptions, IM has been variously described as:
Fringe/ folk medicine;
Pre-scientific medicine; unorthodox; non-scientific medicine;
Culture-bound systems; and
Nomenclatures are European-induced.
According to WHO 70% of the world’s population have no access to biomedical care;
About 60% of medicines in the world are derived from tropical plants
In spite of remarkable technological advances in medical science, people have need to use indigenous healing systems
Health care providers are now interested in understanding why people do what they do.
THE GHANAIAN COSMOLOGY
The Ghanaian world is divided into three often inseparable compartments: The natural, spiritual and natural-supernatural worlds.
The natural world: events of daily occurrence.
The spiritual world has the following entities:
God; the nature gods; the malevolent/benevolent forces; the living-dead;
the individual Ghanaian has both physical and spiritual properties (flesh, spirit and the soul).
All spiritual elements have the capacity to punish wrong doing.
Against the background of this cosmology Ghanaians and other Africans have been described as ‘incurably religious’ (J. S. Mbiti). The following newspaper headlines exemplify this point:
WOMAN TURNS INTO COBRA (Mirror, 25/10/08)
PASTORS PRAY FOR AKOSOMBO (Graphic, 30/7/07.
TYPES OF HEALERS
Mediums of gods and goddesses;
Herbalists/Diviners (Islamic healers);
Neo-herbalists (itinerant herbalists);
Faith healers/ Star gazers/ Palm readers, etc
TYPES OF DISEASES MANAGED
Generally, these are weird, chronic and degenerative diseases:
PUNISHMENT DISEASES AND ‘DIS-EASES’
Diseases meted out as punishment by the gods are often chronic and highly incapacitating:
Epilepsy; blindness; impotence/infertility; swollen penis; monstrous hernia and goitre, etc.
‘Dis-eases’ include lack of personal progress; alcoholism; unemployment; etc . These must be addressed by healers.
Medicine against weapons
Medicine against snake bite
Medicine to pass examination
Medicine to acquire visa/for successful travel or for successful business activities (Edumfa Healing Centre)
Medicine against evil machination (witchcraft, malcontents, etc.)
Medicine to retrieve stolen property
Medicine to destroy an enemy or competitor
Medicine against unfaithful wife/ husband.
No hierarchy of resort;
Influenced by nosological notions;
The socio-demographic characteristics of the patient;
QUESTIONS ON THE SEARCH FOR THE ULTIMATE CAUSE
What is the meaning of this development?
Who caused it and why?
Why at this time?
These questions are clearly beyond the stethoscope.
HIERARCHY OF RESORT
Ghanaians just as many other Africans ‘shop around’ for health in different medical domains without experiencing any sense of contradiction because to us the units within each domain occupy a mental continuum; they enjoy the best of two worlds.
BEYOND OUR COSMOLOGY
There are issues of:
ROLE OF IND. MEDICINE
Healers, are a reservoir of traditional pharmacopoeia and potential source for income generation in phytochemical products;
Healers are available everywhere;
Healers can be used to provide primary health care services in the communities.
ROLE IND. MEDICINE (Contd)
We can partner healers to disseminate health information, especially in the rural areas.
We can do all these only if there is mutual respect. Today, Chinese acupuncture is globally accepted because of the respect the Chinese have for this health care practice.
Plural medicine derives its sustenance from the cosmology of our people and inaccessible allopathic facilities.
What can a doctor do to a patient who is convinced that his problem is caused by witchcraft?
What can a doctor do to a patient who is convinced that his fracture can best be handled at Aponchi Clinic?
Issues of religion/health are matters which defy any systematic analysis or rationalization. Religion evokes emotions and thrives on faith and an unflinching belief which cannot be called to question even when it does not apparently make sense. Some of our health problems border on spirituality, poverty, lack of access and patient non-satisfaction and it is in this regard that indigenous healing comes into play.
“If you want to know why mosquitoes bite, think like one” (Benjamin Paul)
A good health care practitioner treats human beings; a rule-of-the thumb one treats diseases.
Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t (Shakespeare in Hamlet: Act 2 Scene 2 line 202).