While the country battles the spread of Covid-19, the president of the Traditional Healer Association in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region, Dr Sylvester Hlati, says traditional healers and patients have been left out of national pandemic preparation. 

Per Hlati, traditional healers are unable to pick up traditional medicines and herbs from various parts of the country and treat their patients as they have not been issued with permits which will allow them to operate under the new precautionary measures put in place by the government to combat the spread of Covid-19. The measures states that only essential service providers are allowed to work.

“We are very concerned as healers [because] we are unable to operate as we have not been issued with permits. Almost everyone has been given their permits, [including] street vendors but us who actually treat and heal people, we are not deemed as ‘essential’ service providers, whereas we work in the same line as medical doctors and nurses. We are unable to go out and pick-up herbs [because] we do not have permits to do,” says Hlati.

Hlati says that they have been in contact with various government officials to try and find out why they are not being given permits to continue seeing patients and to move around. “There are people out there who actually rely on us for various treatments, but they are unable to get the help they need, because we are unable to operate due to the issue of permits. We feel that our healers and patients’ needs are not being valued by our government,” he says.

Prior to the country wide lockdown which began last month, the association, which has more than 400 healers had complained about not being trained or empowered with skills on how to protect themselves from Covid-19 while treating patients, having to resort to WhatsApp groups to educate each other about the virus.

“Even before the lockdown began, we have been complaining about not being involved by the government in terms of fighting this pandemic, but they still choose to ignore us. We told them [government] that we need training on how to deal with the virus, like they did with doctors and nurses. We also pleaded with them to supply us with protective gear such as gloves and masks, but nothing was done,” says Hlati.

Hlati says that healers play a vital role in helping thousands of people countrywide to stay healthy. “We are so many [healers] and we treat so many patients daily but without permits, where are all those people supposed to get help? We will continue engaging various spheres of the government for a way forward,” he adds.

However, the provincial manager of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), Victor Mavhidula says that all traditional healers who have certificates should feel free to operate as they are deemed to be essential workers. “All those who have registered certificates to work as traditional healers should be able to continue with their work with ease. Traditional healers are essential service providers as they provide health services to the people.”

He says that all healers who may encounter challenges or still need clarity must feel free to contact the provincial office of SAHRC.

Attempts to get comment from the provincial department of health failed. – Health-e News

For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the SA Coronavirus website.