San Yearn for Modern Medicine

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By Wezi Tjaronda

WINDHOEK

Some members of the San community say they would not solely rely on traditional medicine if they had access to modern medicine, a study into the usage of traditional medicine of the San has found.

The study entitled: “A study of Traditional Medicine Usage by the San: The case of Farm Six” said the San community at the farm used traditional medicine because they saw modern medicine as unavailable.

If they had access to modern medicine, they would abandon their use of traditional medicine, they said, adding that they saw other knowledge was more effective and more advanced.

“Most participants indicated that they preferred modern medicine and that if modern medicine was available, they would abandon their use of traditional medicine,” said the report, which was launched yesterday.

Vicky Dan, a final-year student of the Department of Information and Communication Studies at the University of Namibia conducted the study between March and October last year.

The study looked at the usage of traditional knowledge especially medicine by the San community living at Farm Six in Mangetti West, north of Tsumeb.

The study aimed at investigating the indigenous health knowledge held by the San at the farm, examine how the knowledge is shared within the community, identify health needs that require external knowledge and intervention and also establish the extent to which the San at the farm have access to external health resources and knowledge.

The report said many respondents emphasised that traditional medicine was still valued because of lack of transport to take the sick to the clinic. The nea-rest clinic is at Tsintsabis, some 40 km away, while the hospital in Tsumeb is 120 km away.

“There is lack of transport to go to the hospital, so we rely heavily on traditional medicine as it is the only one we have,” the report quoted one respondent as saying.

Interviews with nursing staff at the clinic confirmed that transport problems prevented the community from seeking medical attention. Although the number of visits was high in 2006, the number dropped last year because NDC staff that assisted the community with transport the previous year, was unable to do so.

Statistics from the clinic indicate that 88 patients visited the clinic last year.

Of these, 23 cases reported for upper respiratory tract infections, 17 for gastrointestinal problems, 12 for trauma from insect and snake bites and scorpion stings, nine for tonsillitis and eight for musculoskeletal disorders.

The study found that the San at the farm had extensive knowledge of traditional medicine, which they used to cure a number of ailments including malaria, stomachache, headache, cold and flu, cough, back pain, chest pains and high blood pressure.

The researcher spoke to men, women and children, all of whom were found to hold considerable knowledge on traditional medicine. The participants to the study mentioned TB as the most common disease faced by the community followed by malaria, stomachache and headache. The least common problems were high blood pressure and pain in the legs.

The community said cold conditions, wind and germs caused the diseases, as well as smoking and alcohol.

“They indicated that TB was caused by smoking and drinking alcohol, stomachache was caused by germs and consuming dirty water, malaria was associated with the rainy season, and coughs, colds and flu were linked to cold weather,” the report said.

The commonly used medicines are gam//gambe, qaoroba (buffalo horn), !haba (silver terminalia), ≠iro (sour plum) !gome (mangetti), edada, aloe and ≠haegu.

Although they rely on a number of medicinal plants to treat ailments, they indicated that there was no medicine to treat TB.

“There appeared to be little knowledge about how TB is transmitted via coughing, sneezing and spitting,” the study said, adding that participants indicated that the only way to have TB treated was to go to the clinic in Tsinstabis.

The residents of Farm Six also used trance dancing to cure illnesses that do not respond to traditional medicine. If trance dancing does not work, they refer the patient to the clinic.

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