In the not-too-distant future patients may be able to claim for visits to their Traditional Health Practitioner (THP) from their medical scheme.
Currently a lot of the leading medical schemes in the country already cover alternative therapies, such as homeopathy, aromatherapy, naturopathy and more. The main criterion for coverage is that the practitioner must be registered with the Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF).
Currently this is the pitfall inhibiting patients from claiming for visits to THP.
For some time now THP associations have been asking government to help organise this profession, according to Professor Nceba Gqaleni, chair of the Indigenous Health Care Systems Research. Implementing a formal structure for THPs and incorporating it into the national health system would enable them to register their practices, standardise procedures and medicines, and discipline practitioners that bring the profession into disrepute.
Government has recognised the need to regulate this profession and has taken some steps towards organising it. But the wheels of government turn slowly. Thus far the Department of Health (DoH) has developed a Traditional Health Practitioners Act (Act No. 22, 2007) and has drafted a policy on African Traditional Medicine for South Africa.
"The next step is for government to appoint a council," says Gqaleni. "They will have to develop the infrastructure for registration of THPs."
Why formalise this profession?
Despite the current ruling medical authority's opinion on traditional medicine and all the negative reporting this profession has received in the press; the fact of the matter is that 80% of the South African population uses THPs.
"… in recognition of the reality that the majority of South African people still use and continue to rely on African Traditional Medicine for their primary healthcare needs, there is a need for policy to institutionalise and regulate African Traditional Medicine," reads the DoH's policy on African Traditional Medicine.
THPs are very much incorporated into communities and are often the first line of treatment a person receives when falling ill. Furthermore, in rural areas where access to medical facilities is scarce, many rely wholly on THP for their health care needs.
"Greater accessibility to TM practitioners – and confidence in their ability to manage debilitating, incurable disease – probably explains why most Africans living with HIV/Aids use traditional herbal medicines to obtain symptomatic relief and to manage opportunistic infections," reads the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Traditional Medicine Strategy report.
WHO encourages the integration of traditional medicine into formal health care systems, especially for developing countries, and have developed a set of guidelines to assist governments with this process. – (Wilma Stassen, Health24, October 2008)
The future of traditional healing