By Amie Sanneh
As part of their programme of touring health facilities in the country under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, the Director of Health Services and team, on Tuesday, 5 August 2014, visited two traditional medicine practitioners within the Kanifing Municipality. The two were Habbatus Sauda in Churchill Town and Alh Hammadi Sidibeh at Faye Kunda in Ebo Town.
Dr. Momodou Lamin Waggeh, the Director of Health Services, after visiting the two places, told journalists in an interview that the purpose of their visit is based on four main objectives and these include seeing how best they can strengthen their collaboration and relationship with the traditional practitioners and to identify their limits and the prohibition of unauthorized advertisement of traditional medicines in the country. He said they also want to promote genuine traditional medicine practice in the country.
Dr. Waggeh explained that the main problem with these people (traditional healers) is that they failed to recognize some of their limitations. He said in one of the places they visited they discovered something interesting which is the machine that they use to detect the illnesses of people. According to him, the machine looks like acupuncture but the man called it “Haoxing machine”. “So these are some of the impressions they give out to the public that might create some kind of fake information and that will really go a long way in making some patients become deteriorated before reaching the hospital. So this is really a cause for concern to be able to recognize your limitations are very important,” he said.
The Director of Health Services said he recognized the fact that traditional medicines have been in existence since time immemorial. “We are not here to ban them from practicing, but I think it is important for them to recognize their limitations and of course work with us because. We really respect them and count on them and we really need their support,” he remarked.
On his impression regarding the two places visited, Dr Waggeh said as for Habbatus Sauda, there is no specific dosage for the medicines, but described the environment as clean, well kept and that everything is in order and the storage of the medicinal products are in good shape. The only problem they discovered there is the way and manner the drugs are being given with no specific dosage. He also said some of the drugs available there has no expiry dates.
On the way the drugs are prepared, he said, they are not sure if the drugs are responding to the needs of this country.
On the issue that traditional healers claim to treat all sorts of illness except death, the Health Director said this is one of the things why they want to stop unauthorized advertisement. “Some of these advertisements would really make some people think that they almost have everything which may not be in essence the true picture of any particular traditional medicine outlet. So actually what is important is to stop the advertisement and what can happen is whatever they are doing would really advertise them in a way because if people are treated, that person goes home and informs others and within the shortest possible time everybody will start going to that particular traditional medicine practitioner without going through any form of advertisement,” said the Director of Health Services.
At the end of their tour of health facilities, the Health Service Director said they are expecting a change for the better. He again stressed the need for them to know their limitations, work hand in glove to ensure that health is brought to the doorstep of every Gambian in the country, and be it traditional or orthodox. He further said he is not expecting the closure of any premises, but stressed that people have to keep up with standards and ensure that all what they are doing is in conformity with the regulations, especially the 2014 Medicine Regulations.
The Director of Health Services advised the traditional healers to come on board and work together as a team for the common interest of the country and not to see each other as enemies.
The first place visited for the day was HabbatusSauda in Churchill Town where they met the proprietor, Issahaka Sissoko. He told the health officials that he is a Gambian. He said he is a traditional practitioner and spiritual herbalist who treats high blood, evil spell, general body pain, constant headache, asthma, impotency, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), amongst others, but most of his treatment is spiritualist. He said he orders his products from the Arab countries and treat in the prophetic way. Any case they cannot handle, he said, they refer them to the hospital.
The next place visited was Alhagie Hamadi Sidibeh of Ebo Town Faye Kunda, who refers himself as a medical doctor. He said he is a Malian national who has been in the country since 2001. He told the officials that he learnt his traditional practice from Mali. Sidibeh said he treats diseases like diabetes, eye problem, hemorrhoid (pile), high blood pressure, STIs and Fungal Infection, using herbs. He said he has four other places doing the same treatment in Tallinding, DippaKunda, Wellingara and Ebo Town. He noted that the people handling these places all passed through him. He said he has one machine called Haoxing Machine from China which detects the illnesses in the body.
The health officials further asked Alh. Sidibeh where he got the doctor’s title he uses and whether he had received the certificate. He told the health authorities that it is his belief that anyone who can treat diseases is a doctor and that is why he gave himself the title. The health experts advised him to desist from using such a title since he did not acquire it legally or in a recognised institution of learning.
During both meetings with the heads of the two traditional medicine outlets, the health authorities made it clear to them to desist from any form of advertisement on the radio, newspaper or national television in the country unless the ministry orders them to do so. They are also urged to register all their products in line with the new Medicine Regulations.