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Marrying western medicine with indigenous knowledge

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Dr Gubela Mji of Stellenbosch University leads a village elder to the Indigenous Health Conference at the Donald Woods Centre at Hobeni.

Almost 100 traditional healers, village elders, chiefs, community leaders and residents took part in an Indigenous Health Conference at the Donald Woods Centre at Hobeni over the weekend.

Doctoral research undertaken in the area by Dr Gubela Mji, an Associate Professor with Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, revealed that elderly Xhosa women use their extensive knowledge on a range of social and health issues to manage illnesses in their homes and the wider community.

The two-day conference was jointly hosted by the Donald Woods Foundation, Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town. It was aimed at reporting back to the Bomvana people on Dr Mji’s research findings and providing a platform for the community to chart a way forward for incorporating local health concerns into rural health interventions.

Mji found that elderly Xhosa women do not view disease in terms of mere symptoms and their treatment but were of the view that each disease is linked to a wider social determinant, and such determinants must be included when considering the overall health of a community.

Managing health is “about the health of the home and not just about the management of disease. They believe that healthy homes make healthy villages, and that the prevention of the development of disease is related to the strengthening of the home,” said Mji.

Xhosa women’s health concerns include food security, healthy children and families, peace and security in their homes with anxiety and worry seen as the greatest threat and contributor to ill health in their communities.

“Worry is seen as the greatest negative contributor to ill health, with troublesome men and children being the greatest cause of worry,” she added.

This concern was uppermost and was identified by participants during the second day of the conference when Hobeni community members convened to chart a course to address such concerns.

Following the event, Dr Mji said discussions had revealed a community in deep distress, with many social components such as unemployment, the absence of adequate sanitation, running water and electricity adding to the burden borne by rural communities.

“This includes social ills such as isolation and loneliness, substance abuse, the loss of traditional values among the youth (including the ability to produce food and traditional beer) and a loss of ancestral reverence.”

Mji said the conference had been successful in that it gave local residents a voice and it further highlighted the need that health professionals should take the deep knowledge and wisdom held in communities into account in the day-to-day provision of overall health care to ultimately foster meaningful well-being in rural communities.

To view more photographs of the event, visit our Facebook page

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