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Ethical quandaries in spiritual healing and herbal medicine: A critical analysis of the morality of traditional medicine advertising in southern African urban societies

M Mawere


This paper critically examines the morality of advertising by practitioners in spiritual healing and herbal medicine heretofore referred to as traditional medicine, in southern African urban societies. While the subject of traditional medicine has been heavily contested in medical studies in the last few decades, the monumental studies on the subject have emphasised the place of traditional medicine in basic health services. Insignificant attention has been devoted to examine the ethical problems associated with traditional medicine advertising. Critical look at the worthiness of some advertising strategies used by practitioners in traditional medicine in launching their products and services on market thus has been largely ignored. Yet, though advertising is key to helping traditional medicine practitioners’ products and services known by prospective customers, this research registers a number of morally negative effects that seem to outweigh the merits that the activity brings to prospective customers. The paper adopts southern African urban societies, and in particular Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe as particular references. The choice of the trio is not accidental, but based on the fact that these countries have in the last few decades been flooded with traditional medicine practitioners/traditional healers from within the continent and from abroad. Most of these practitioners use immoral advertising strategies in communicating to the public the products and services they offer. It is against this background that this paper examines the morality of advertising strategies deployed by practitioners in launching their products and services. To examine the moral worthiness of the advertising strategies used by traditional medical practitioners, I used qualitative analysis of street adverts as well as electronic and print media. From the results obtained through thematic content analysis, the paper concludes that most of the practitioners in traditional medicine lack both business and medical ethics. That said, the paper urges practitioners to seriously consider the morality of their adverts as in most cases they (adverts) do more harm than good. Further to that, the piece recommends the governments of the affected countries to put in place stringent measures to address this mounting problem.

Key words: Keyword Advertising, herbal, spiritual, healing, traditional medicine, morality, southern Africa

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eISSN: 1937-8688