Trading on Tradition

Amid a spiraling Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, traditional healers remain the front line of medicine, raising concern about their outsize influence. In Africa there are 80X more traditional healers than medical doctors, writes Donald G. McNeil, Jr.
A well-respected herbalist in rural Uganda, Samuel Muriisa is aware of the limitations of his methods when it comes to Ebola, HIV and cancer. He refers patients to the hospital for more serious ailments. But patients gathering at traditional clinics risks spreading disease.

During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the death of one traditional healer was linked to 300 other cases after followers flocked to help wash her body.

Despite the concerns raised by traditional medicine, they are a central piece of Africa's medical infrastructure. Zulu HIV specialist Smangaliso Hlengwa realized this, establishing respect and collaboration with traditional healers. "Western doctors working in Africa need to understand how differently their patients view disease," McNeil writes in a New York Times Insider companion piece.

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