oa South African Health Review - Bridging the gap between biomedical and traditional health practitioners in South Africa



Traditional health practitioners (THPs) in South Africa are increasingly acknowledged as essential providers of health care and the National Department of Health is taking firm steps towards the formal regulation of THPs. However, tensions continue to dominate the landscape of research and policy debates on the role and practices of THPs, particularly with respect to historical injustices, gaps in scientific evidence, mistrust on the part of biomedical practitioners and toxicity of medicines.

In this chapter, we report on the findings of a study of peer reviewed and grey literature related to THPs up to 2015 and argue that the world view of the biomedical paradigm is very different from that of the healing paradigm as the former uses a scientific knowledge lens while the latter uses an indigenous knowledge lens.
We argue that in subscribing to indigenous knowledge systems, the merging of biomedical and traditional healing paradigms provides for a complementary system of plural health care, which could offer patients a truly holistic and comprehensive form of care.
The current body of evidence demonstrates much progress in the way that traditional healing is perceived in South Africa, having shifted from a derogatory 'witchcraft paradigm' supported by the Witchcraft Suppression Act (3 of 1957), to a more tolerant, and in some instances reconciliatory, discourse of a 'healing paradigm' now protected under the Traditional Health Practitioners Act (22 of 2007).


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