Government needs to pay urgent attention to removing barriers that prevent traditional and complementary medicine practitioners from being reimbursed for services from medical aid schemes.
This is according to researchers Nceba Gqaleni, Indres Moodley, Heidi Kruger, Abigail Ntuli and Heather McLeod writing in the SA Health Review.
They say government should issue practice code numbers to these practitioners and include their therapies in the annual National Health Reference Price list so that they can starting claiming from medical schemes.
There are approximately 190 000 traditional healers in the country, the majority in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. The sector also provides thousands of other jobs for people, mainly women, in the sourcing and selling of indigenous plants.
The traditional medicine trade is worth about R2.9-billion a year (5.6% of the national health budget) and serves almost 27 million consumers, according to researchers from Futureworks.
Some 84% of clinic patients in Durban said they also used traditional medicine, according to a survey.
‘Many customers report that they choose to use traditional healers as they feel the treatment is more holistic than western medicine,’ noted the Futureworks researchers.
‘Rituals combining ancestor worship, divination and plant medicines are often part of the consultation process and it is this dual spiritual and physiological treatment that many customers appreciate.’
The average patient paid five visits a year to a traditional healer, and consumed about 750g of medicinal plants a year.
This translates into an estimated 20 000 tonnes of indigenous plants being harvested in eastern South Africa alone every year. As a result, many of these plants are now very scarce, with some plants such as Salacia kraussii fetching R4 800 per kilogram while the African Wild Ginger plant is reported to be extinct in the wild.
The Ethekwini council has set up five rural medicinal nurseries and farms to promote a more sustainable supply of plants for Durban consumers.
A number of animals are also used in traditional medicine with some facing threat, including the African rock pythons, black rhinos, bushbabies, chameleons, golden moles and vultures.
In 2003, the Traditional Health Practitioners Act was passed to provide a framework for regulating the sector including registering practitioners.
However, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Act was improperly processed by the National Council of Provinces and, following public meetings in all provinces, it was only approved in October of this year and still needs to be signed into law by the President.
Only then will an Interim Traditional Health Practitioners’ Council be set up to help draw up regulations for the sector.
The aim of the council is to ensure that all practitioners are registered and have a minimum standard of training from an accredited institution.
The Medicines Control Council has technical sub-committees dealing with Afircan traditional medicines and complementary medicines.
The MCC is trying to register complementary medicines, including traditional medicine, via its Accelerated Registration Programme.
‘As long as the product contains substances from accepted pharmacopoeia at safe dosages the product will undergo testing to ascertain that it is produced under good manufacturing procedures and to verify the contents,’ according Nqaleni and others.
Some 25 000 complementary and traditional medicines have been submitted to the MCC via this programme.
Research into traditional medicine is also being undertaken by a number of universities and institutions, with the long term aim of developing patents for promising medicinal plants. ‘ Health-e News Service.