Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Health: Uganda - "We used to put premature babies in underground holes"

"Patients now know that they cannot take herbs which we spit on and we cannot do it any more because of the training."

KAMPALA, 23 November 2010 (PlusNews) - Ssenga Bernadette Nabatanzi, 70, has been a herbalist and traditional birth attendant for over 30 years, a skill passed down by her grandmother. Nabatanzi still practises her craft, but today she is also a trainer with Uganda's Traditional and modern Health practitioners Together against AIDS and other diseases (THETA), teaching other traditional healers about HIV/AIDS.

She told IRIN/PlusNews about the similarities and differences between her former and current lines of work.

"I remember very well when women used to give birth to premature babies, we used to put them in underground holes and only remove them for breastfeeding. After about two weeks, the child would be grown enough to go with the mother.

"I don't deliver babies anymore. I only administer herbs in pregnancy to stop vomiting, to give energy, for malaria and for various STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] but not HIV.

"What I have been taught to do is to prepare the patient, persuade them, and ask those who have HIV symptoms to go and test. Usually when they test and find out that they are HIV-positive they come back and consult me. Then I can give them some herbs - immune boosters - and advise them to eat balanced diets.

"Most importantly, they confide in me because I am a confidant and counsellor. My clients understand me very well as I have been trained to relate HIV to culture.

"I can no longer cut many people with the same razor blade [to administer herbs]. We have patients' rights trainings; patients now know that they cannot take herbs which we spit on and we cannot do it any more because of the training.

"I have taught fellow herbalists to keep clean environments; most of the THETA herbalists [now] have ventilated clinics so that if they get tuberculosis patients they are not infected. I also teach them about the minimum standards of hygiene. I encourage them to have toilets, clean water and an outside drying rack for the herbs.

"And I train them about respecting patients' rights and that if they have sex with their clients they can get HIV and other infections. I also encourage them to have a female attendant in the clinics who will help with administering herbs on the body for female clients.

"Most of the people I train are old; they are short-sighted and fear change. One of the challenges I face is that most of the herbalists are rich and they do not trust easily, they think THETA is interested in stealing their knowledge. But since I am one of them they trust me."

This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.