Despite government efforts to modernise the health sector, some people, especially in rural areas, still rely on traditional healers for treatment.
According to Dr William Namanya, the Director General of Kibungo Referral Hospital, in Ngoma District, the hospital receives various cases of patients who first sought treatment through traditional methods.
This, he said, at times results into wounding a patient’s body and raising the possibility of infection.
Patients waiting for services at Kibungo Referral Hospital in Ngoma District, during the week-long Operative Surgical Camp
From July 21-29, in collaboration with Rwanda Surgical Society, the hospital is, for the second time, conducting Operative Surgical Camp, where four surgical specialists joined the hospital’s team.
They are expected to treat at least 200 patients.
Namanya says that most of the patients that were diagnosed with different surgical diseases, mostly hernia illnesses, had first visited traditional healers.
“Since the hernias do not even hurt, the patient keeps getting medicine from traditional doctors, which ultimately does not heal them,” he explained.
With time, he said, the illness worsens and the patient loses trust in the traditional doctor, prompting them to seek official treatment from health facilities.
To illustrate the risks associated with tradition healers, Namanya said that on Saturday last week the hospital received a baby who had been subjected to infant oral mutilation by traditional healers— a dangerous and sometimes fatal traditional or conventional dental malpractice.
Locally known as “gukura ibyinyo”, the practice involves a parent taking the sick child to a traditional healer, who blames the illness on “tooth worms”.
The parents had noticed fever and diarrhoea—both natural symptoms of teething in a baby.
Namanya said this process led to severe bleeding of the child, leading to loss of blood. In addition, the child’s gum had also been infected.
The hospital’s intervention included treating the infections and doing blood transfusion for the baby who was brought to the hospital in critical condition, according to Namanya.
He added that other dangerous traditional medical procedures carried out on babies include “uvulectomy” (guca ikirimi) and “tonsilectomy” (gukata ibirato) among others.
Namanya explained that such traditional treatment leads to bleeding, which could cause infections as well as transmission of diseases such as hepatitis.
“When metal instruments are not sterilised, they can infect the patient with hepatitis, HIV or tetanus,” he warned.
Patients speak out
Anastase Habyarimana, 46, from Nyamugari Sector in Kirehe District, said he has suffered from hernia for nearly 10 years. During that time, his first line of defence was against this disease was a traditional healer.
“I kept running to traditional doctors, until I found out that my situation was worsening,” he said.
Although Habyarimana believes that traditional doctors have the capacity to treat some diseases, there are illnesses that are beyond their abilities.
In addition to their limited abilities, Habyarimana says that traditional healers are more expensive compared to public health facilities where Rwandans use health insurance.
Sarah Nsengumukiza, a resident of Mugesera Sector, said that; “The best thing is to consult the hospital because traditional healers cannot accurately diagnose patients’ real problems.”
Nsengumukiza had an appointment, on Monday, for the operation of haemorrhoid disease she has had for almost four years.
Dr Namanya said that they had embarked on sensitisation campaigns through community radios and community meetings, to encourage people to seek professional medical advice whenever they don’t feel well.
Founded in 1932 as a dispensary, Kibungo Referral Hospital became district hospital in 1984. It was further expanded in 1997 following a partnership with the Republic of China. It was upgraded into a referral hospital in 2014.