Mr. Telebi TIMOBOE, a traditional healer in the Dankpen district of Togo, was asked how he consults his patients. He explained that when there are new cases, “before any treatment, we start with a consultation which is purely spiritual. And then after the consultation, we know the kind of trees or roots we need to cure the patients”.
Across Togo, the use of traditional healers is common; they are often first responders when a child takes ill, a pregnancy becomes complicated, or other health issues arise. When Integrate Health expanded into the Kozah district in 2015, it was clear that traditional healers played an important role in the community. Rather than leave traditional healers out of our capacity building approach, Integrate Health decided to connect with the traditional healers and extend an offer to provide trainings on maternal and child health. Integrate Health has trained 735 traditional healers since 2015, and as we expand to new districts, these trainings are becoming increasingly important.
On January 15th, Integrate Health in collaboration with the Dankpen District Hospital Director organized a training for 53 traditional healers from Kpetab and surrounding communities in the Dankpen district. The main objectives of the training were to inform the traditional healers of the danger signs of illness in pregnant women and children and to create closer and more sincere collaboration between the health center staff and the traditional healers. It is the hope that armed with this knowledge and confidence in the health center, when complicated cases arise the traditional healers can identify danger signs and in turn, refer cases quickly to the health centers so that the patient can get appropriate lifesaving care.
Initially, during the training, some of the traditional healers were reluctant to adopt the referral system that Integrate Health proposed. One concern repeatedly plagued the traditional healers. Did Integrate Health want them to stop the treatment of their patients all together? However, the trainers were clear; the main objective of the training was to show the traditional healers how to recognize danger signs that would warrant a referral to the clinic. After the training progressed, the traditional healers recognized the importance of the referral system, and that some cases are difficult and need additional care.
After the training finished, Mr. Telebi TIMOBOE was pleased with how useful the training was. He expressed the common sentiment in the room: “This helps us to avoid preventable deaths of people in our community. It helps us to know if the diseases we see in our patients can be treated at a health center.”
Integrate Health recognizes the vital role traditional healers play in healthcare for the communities in which we serve. We believe that through consistent, respectful communication and continual learning, together, we can ensure that all pregnant women and children under five can achieve the best health outcomes. And as Mr. Timoboe eloquently said, “there are things we can do together to reduce deaths in our community and for that, I am very glad”.