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From: Traditional medicines – Footsteps 48

A discussion about how to use traditional medicines safely and effectively

Traditional medicine is a term that does not just simply refer to herbal cures for illnesses. It also touches on all kinds of healing approaches. In this issue we have focused on the enormous benefits available in using tried and tested herbal remedies. However, the boundary between herbal cures and more spiritual influences is not clear. Christians have often avoided all aspects of traditional medicine for fear of negative spiritual influences.

While few would question the benefits of herbal treatments, there are indeed spiritual powers exercised by some healers with which Christians should not be involved. In addition, each culture may know of different practices. How can we raise the discussion of these issues in a way that helps people to be honest? How can Christians be wise in their approach? Here are some discussion questions that may help people find the right way forward in their culture.

  1. In Africa, nearly 80% of the population live in rural areas and depend on the services of traditional healers. But often little is done by health workers and doctors to work with traditional healers. Why is this?
  2. WHO guidelines encourage co-operation with herbalists and traditional midwives. How is this being approached in your local health centre?
  3. Words such as witch doctor, medicine man, diviner, herbalist, priest, shaman and prophet are used to describe a range of traditional healers. Discuss the terms used in your area. Which terms describe spiritual influences which Christians should avoid?
  4. Traditional healers often consider not just the physical symptoms of disease but also the patient’s mind, soul and body. What advantages and disadvantages are there in this approach?
  5. People who are not Christians often think that illness or misfortune is caused by both seen and unseen forces, such as ancestors, spirits, elders or neighbours. How can Christians challenge this approach in a helpful way?
  6. What should Christian healthworkers do if local healers consider the spiritual significance of their herbal remedies more important than their medicinal properties?

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