Hollo Nteba “a traditional healer sells old customs in exchange for new health training”.

In rural Tanzania, traditional beliefs that define sickness as an unavoidable part of life often prevail over modern medicine. With few alternatives, isolated populations far from health centers often rely on the traditional healers for health issues. Incantations and medicinal plants are used during ceremonies where the patients put their lives in the hands of the spirits and the healer. Often, patients belatedly turn to modern health care services, after the treatment provided by a healer fails. 

Traditional healer Hollo Nteba Image ©Adrian Mgaya for Amref Health Africa Tanzania.

Hollo Nteba, a traditional healer from the village of Ikungulipu in Itilima District, was long active in her village and served most of the villagers. She is well known for her exceptional skills in using medicinal plants to cure illness. Many people in her village consult Hollo for everything from curing illness to good-luck charms.

According to Hollo, her clients prefer traditional healers to doctors as they feel there are some things that cannot be treated in hospital also they want extra protection for body and mind.

Due to limited information in the community and inadequate infrastructure in Hollo’s village, people became dependent on Hollo’s services, including maternal issues. In the past many people suffered during pregnancy and some lost their lives. 

Traditional healers like Hollo are generating income for curing people but sometimes they fail to treat some diseases which needs professional medical doctors. People come to medical institutions in desperation when herbs fail to treat potentially fatal infections like malaria, or when unskilled healers fail to recognize the signals of difficulties during childbirth, and in some instances it is too late for treatment. 

Hollo revealed that “I once witnessed a woman being taken to the hospital. They had unfortunately taken her too late. And she lost a lot of blood. She was taken to Somanda Hospital but shortly after they arrived she died”.

In the cases of malaria, for example, when the fever is high and severe complications develop, such as seizures or anemia, death is common without timely medical care.

While some traditional healers are more aware of their treatments’ limitations, many are concerned about a rising threat to their livelihoods and traditions as community trust in low-cost local clinics and modern practices.

Community Health Worker (Samson) and daughter and grandchildren of traditional healer Hollo Nteba Image ©Adrian Mgaya for Amref Health Africa Tanzania.

When Amref Health Africa starts to engage traditional healers on its projects it was a life changing in Itilima. By using Community health worker who educated traditional healers on different health issues, Amref discovered that when traditional healers helped them in spreading the messages about malaria prevention and treatment, it was taken more seriously in local communities. Many more people went to the clinic after a trusted healer advised them to do so.

Hollo’s daughter and her grandchild Image ©Adrian Mgaya for Amref Health Africa Tanzania.

“Our Community Health Worker, Samson who was trained by Amref Health Africa through Ustawi wa Mwanamke Project did a good job in educating us”, one respondent informed us. When my daughter who was pregnant came from Mwanza, I took her to the clinic. After giving birth. She unfortunately started losing blood. Then she was transferred to another hospital and blood transfusion was made possible. And she is still alive, things which I wasn’t able to do my self”. She said.

Hollo concluded that “I am very grateful to the government for all they’ve done. Now the children are not suffering from malnutrition or even Malaria due to the services of our community health worker Samson. Even our environment is currently very clean. I’m very grateful to the government for engaging Samson. Diseases and deaths that can be prevented have been reduced

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