Conceptions of illness from an African perspective in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa : views from traditional healers.
Mthethwa, Ayanda Charity.
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South Africa is a diverse country with different belief systems that are largely determined by culture. Culture can be said to dictate and underpin many life events and their understanding, including that of illness. Illness is a common phenomenon which affects all living beings. Assumptions or theories of illness, its origin, maintenance, and treatment or intervention approaches are rooted in culture. Influential in South Africa’s health care system is a Western perspective which to a certain extent comes short when addressing African understanding of illness. Looking at South Africa, an integrated health care system is warranted if the needs of many are to be adequately addressed. Achieving this requirement however calls for an inclusive health care system that is sensitive to the cultural background of individuals. Prior to that taking place, a thorough investigation into the African worldview is needed in order to develop informed policies and make the necessary transformations. The current study intended to make a contribution in this regard. This study explored the conceptions of illness from an African perspective by seeking the views of traditional healers in the KwaZulu-Natal culture-area. Traditional healers were seen as the drivers of the African perspective with regard to illness. This study aimed to explore how traditional healers in the culture-area under study conceptualised illness, the various methods of treatment and intervention which the traditional healers utilised, and what informed their decision making in terms of treatment or intervention approaches. The interpretive design of the qualitative approach was used. The process gave rise to non-probability sampling of seven traditional healers. Structured interviews were used to collect data which were analysed thematically. The study revealed that traditional healers conceptualised illness in categories of classification with respect to their causes, either natural or spiritual. It further revealed that traditional healers made use of disposing of, cleansing, herbs, prayer and holy water as a form of treatment intervention for the majority of the illness presented to them. Lastly the study revealed that choice of treatment or intervention was informed by the traditional healer’s gift ‘to see beyond the observed’, through the influence of ancestors and by means of prayer. Implications of these findings were drawn and recommendations for further studies were made.