Why patients lose trust in hospitals, seek local herbs

Sunday September 6 2015

A patient explaining something to her doctor.

A patient explaining something to her doctor. Some people have been made to believe that modern medicine is not all that safe. PHOTO | FILE. 

By Syriacus Buguzi

Ms Elimina Olomi, 30, seems to be fed-up with taking medications that she was offered a month ago at one public hospital in Dar es Salaam, and, she wants to make a resolution. However, her decision raises concerns.

She has been agonizing with chronic pain in her hip joint after doctors diagnosed her with a condition known as Endometriosis but according to her, the drugs she was offered at the hospital are no longer a good option for her. Why does she think so?

The mother of one and an accountant residing in Tabata in the city is now contemplating about quitting the medical treatment she was given because she has apparently discovered another option.

Her health choices, however, are not guided by expert opinions. Talking to her closely, one will realise that the media, some preachers and a class of self-proclaimed traditional healers have largely influenced her beliefs.

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MoHSW) has been trying to regulate the influence of the media on people’s health choices after it was realised that a section of the society was being misled by unscrupulous medicine-men.

But, according to a registrar in the MoHSW’s Medical Radiology and Imaging Professionals Council, Mr Eunice Bandio, the ministry was not able to monitor all the media content. “Many people have ended up with wrong choices because of what they see or read in the media,’’ says Mr Bandio.

Media influence

In a recent interview with Sound Living, Ms Elimina said that she recently watched a local TV Talk-Show on “Alternative Medicine and Reproductive Health’’ and since then, she has been inspired by the programme. Her resolution was now to quit modern medicines and find solace in what she calls “natural medicine.’’

“I have been watching various TV programmes on our local channels and some medics seem to inspire me with what they speak on natural medicine,’’ she says, and added that through the talk-shows, she has learnt that modern medicines are not safe.

Dr John Richard from Mwananyamala Hospital says that people’s healthcare seeking behaviours have been largely influenced by the media but the situation is also complicated by the poor quality of healthcare services provided by most of the country’s health facilities.

“Unfortunately some people have ended up losing trust in the health services provided at the hospitals and run to traditional healers for even serious medical problems,’’ he says.

Looking at Elimina’s case, you will realise that she has seemingly lost trust in the conventional medicines offered in hospitals but hers is a story that is replicated across the country.

A section of Tanzanians who cannot afford, or who are not satisfied with the quality of healthcare at local hospitals, are desperately seeking for alternative treatment—especially from herbalists or faith-based healers. Some end up in the hands of proper and licensed medicine-men but the rest may be misled.

Mr William Babonaki, 40, a resident of Tabata in Dar es Salaam believes that some of the preachers he follows can heal infertility problems in women and some chronic diseases such as Cancer and Diabetes.

He told Sound Living recently that he knows a woman, a cancer victim, who had been seeking treatment from hospital to hospital to no avail, only to be healed by her pastor through prayers.

“A woman from our village came to Dar es Salaam and sought treatment at almost all big hospitals here in the city. She had cancer. I convinced her to see our pastor and now she has been completely healed through prayers. You just need to have faith,’’ says Mr Babonaki.

Faith healing

In Tanzania, the healing power of pastors is still debatable. One retired pastor, Rev Ambilikile Mwasapila in Loliondo, Arusha is widely known in the country for his “wonder cure’’ that forced some patients to sneak out of their hospital beds and travel thousands of kilometers for the purported cure.

Babu wa Loliondo, as he was fondly known, woke up from a dream one morning and claimed that God had given him a vision about a herb that would completely heal people of cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

His ‘cure’ has been highly criticized by local scientists for having caused more harm than good. However, the rush for the wonder herb exposed the weaknesses of the country’s healthcare system.

Researchers say the rising trend of Non-Communicable Diseases like Cancer, Diabetes and Heart diseases, which are too expensive to treat in hospitals, are also contributing to the surge in the number of people seeking herbal medicine and healing through faith.

This year’s study on how people in Northern Tanzania use traditional medicine revealed how a section of people in society were desperately searching for the local or traditional herbs due to poverty and poor healthcare delivery at public hospitals.

The study, published in the PlosOne Journal, quoted a number of people expressing their lack of trust in public hospitals and medicine. It was carried out in areas most affected by Non-Communicable Diseases.

Titled: ‘The Determinants of Traditional Medicine Use in Northern Tanzania,’ the study was carried out in Kilimanjaro Region. It aimed at identifying five major reasons why people use traditional medicine. The researchers looked the biomedical healthcare delivery, credibility of traditional practices, strong cultural identities, individual health status, and disease understanding.

Through the interviews, the researchers established some of the reasons why people shun hospitals and run to traditional healers.

One man, 53 years old said, ’People complain that if you go to the hospital, the first thing they will do is to admit you and start injecting you with water drips without even testing or explain what the problem is…plus some of the doctors respond harshly to the patients which makes it hard to believe in them.’’

A young man aged 22 said, ‘’I was admitted to the hospital for three months, but I didn’t get any relief. The doctors told me that the problem is so serious that it cannot be cured. Afterwards, my grandmother sent me to the traditional healer, and my condition improved in a very short period of time.’’

A medical doctor who was interviewed in the study said, ‘People keep on seeking a cure for something that is a chronic disease. For example, there was a man who had paralysis due to a stroke. He kept on searching for a herbal medicine to cure the paralysis. When everything failed, he blamed us for not doing enough to cure his paralysis.’’