A study has uncovered that pregnant women in the far-flung villages of Qumbu use traditional medicine or face travelling long distances for health services.
The use of these medicines is common amongst women between the ages of 25 to 35 years.
Asavela Kasa, a student, conducted the study for her post-graduate qualification.
“People are influenced by communities to use traditional medicine and there is a strong family influence. The study also found that people use traditional medicine because they are far from the clinics. So that is why they choose to use traditional medicine. The study also recommends that there needs to be a scientific research to prove the health and safety of traditional medicine used by pregnant women,” says Kasa.
The use of non-prescribed medicine by expectant mothers is viewed as a health hazard in the scientific medical field. Medical experts warn that it can even lead to the death of mothers and their unborn babies. Gynaecologist, Dr Busisiwe Majeke elaborates.
“It’s really a problem. It is completely a huge problem because when you’re pregnant and you start taking all these traditional medicines, remember the pregnant person has got physiological changes where everything is extreme,” says Dr Majeke.
“If everything is extreme than before, cardiovascular is changed and not the same as the normal person. So if you start taking drugs that are not prescribed, you’re going to have implications. That’s why people must refrain from taking these medications,” warns Dr.Majeke.
The Traditional Healers Organisation (THO) believes the use of traditional medicines is still stereotyped. The Organisation’s National Coordinator, Gogo Bakhombisile Maseko, says they are fighting for their products to be recognised.
“We want to be in the same level as western medicine. Same level, but of course operating differently because we do not want to be them, but we want to be upgraded to equal standards by government so it can recognise us. We do vote and we are also people of South Africa. It is wrong that government overlooks us and doesn’t recognise us,” says Gogo Maseko.
The Department of Science and Innovation says government is making efforts to recognise traditional medicine. The Deputy Director-General in the department, Mmboneni Muofhe, says they assist practitioners to commercialise their products if they want to.
“There are a number of provincial structures that we interact with and there are also stakeholders that we have that represent traditional healers. Some of them are not traditional healers but they grow some of the plants that are used by traditional healers. So we’ve got a network nationally of those people, and I must agree that we may not have reached every single corner, but our plan is that we need to continue to get to all the corners,” says Muofhe.
The women who took part in the study view the use of traditional medicine as part of their heritage. They also refused to share their experiences with the SABC.