South African Family Practice

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Use of traditional medicine versus use of the community-based primary health care clinic by the San community at Platfontein

GF De Jager, EAM Prinsloo, G Joubert


Introduction: Working amongst a San community led to the observation that, despite the availability of modern healthcare, high mortality and morbidity associated with disease, such as dehydration, malnutrition and tuberculosis, still prevailed.
This study aimed to determine how traditional beliefs and customs influenced the utilisation of Western medicine. Methods: An observational-descriptive study was conducted. Consenting patients, facilitated by interpreters, completed questionnaires during consultations conducted by nurses and the principal investigator at the Platfontein primary health
care (PHC) clinic.
Results: Of the 113 participants, two-thirds were female. The median age was 40 years; 56.7% lacked formal education; 42.5% conversed only in their native tongue. The initial use of the PHC facility was high (71.4%), even though 37% of the participants visited a traditional healer in the preceding year. Circumcision was the condition for which traditional healers were consulted most commonly (28.8%). Conditions preferably requiring clinic visitation were coughing (51.4%), pain (35.1%) and diarrhoea (34.2%). Of the participants leading mostly a traditional lifestyle (n = 48), 30.6 % indicated that they did not use traditional medicine or healers; 72.9% indicated that illness could be caused by a spell. Of the participants
not leading a traditional lifestyle (n = 41), 85.4% indicated that they did not use traditional medicine; 41.4% indicated that illness could be caused by a spell.
Conclusion: The assumption that the mortality and morbidity observed for certain conditions were due to the preference for traditional medicine in this community could not be confirmed. Doctors working amongst isolated communities or in multicultural environments, however, should recognise that traditional medicine still plays a role in the health care of their patients.

Keywords: assumptions; perceptions; modern medicine; Western medicine; traditional healers; San community; Khoisan
AJOL African Journals Online