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A socio-cultural study of traditional healers role in African health care

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Background: There is a widely held view that a major cause of delay in diagnosis of cancer at an early stage in Africa is the fact that many patients consult traditional healers first and are often treated by them until curative treatment cannot be undertaken. Purpose: This qualitative study aimed at identifying cancer patients who have used traditional healers and their traditional healers' understanding of cancer, its causes and treatment, patients' motivations for patronizing traditional healers and their opinion about collaboration between physicians of western medicine and traditional healers as part of overall health care system. Methods: Ethical approval was obtained from the UI/UCH IRB. Twenty people participated in the study, nine cancer patients, six traditional healers and five faith based healers using three focused group discussions employing a semi structured interview. Data analysis: The audio taped recorded responses to the semi structured questions were transcribed and thematically analyzed. The themes that emerged from focus group discussions with the patients and healers relate to the meaning of cancer, the causes of cancer (due to satanic attack), the cure for cancer (being possible through prayers to God and use of herbs), reason for using traditional healers (financial consideration, convenience, incorporation of their spiritual beliefs and recommendation by others) and need for collaboration between orthodox medicine and traditional healers. Conclusion: Patients and alternative healers have a poor understanding of the causes and treatment of cancer. They desire to seek a closer collaboration between healers and western physicians to enhance better care for cancer patients. This has implication for policy makers who will facilitate the relationship in order to control cancer care and improve the quality of care of cancer patients in Nigeria.




Asuzu, C. C., Akin-Odanye, E. O., Asuzu, M. C., & Holland, J. (2019). A socio-cultural study of traditional healers role in African health care. Infectious Agents and Cancer, 14(1).

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