By Babington Maravanyika
Traditional healers will be granted full health professional status from next month when President Thabo Mbeki signs a new bill into law.
And once the Traditional Health Practitioners Bill is enacted, one of the priorities of the interim 22-member National Traditional Healers' Council will be to negotiate with medical aids to pay for treatments.
Nceba Gqaleni, head of research into indigenous healthcare systems with the department of science and technology at the University of KwaZulu Natal's Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, said claiming from medical aids should be a simple process once a coding system for charging had been established.
The groundbreaking bill was approved by the House of Assembly in November.
Once it becomes law, members will be nominated by provinces for a new interim national council that will become the supreme body governing all traditional healers, according to Sazi Mhlongo, president of the National Traditional Healers' Association and also president of the association's KwaZulu Natal branch.
The interim council is to include members from the legal fraternity, pharmaceutical companies and various community groups.
All traditional healers will be required to register with the council before they can practise in South Africa.
The interim council will gain full council status only after being assessed by the government over a three-year period.
At least 350 000 traditional healers are expected to register with the body, Mhlongo said.
"The National Traditional Healers' Council will register only qualified traditional healers, who would have before being certified as traditional healers," Mhlongo said.
He said it would take about five years to become a fully fledged traditional healer, and that healers would be divided into three categories: diviners (sangomas), herbalists (nyangas) and traditional surgeons, who perform circumcisions.
Mhlongo said traditional healers would be required to know how to identify and mix most of the more than 5 000 herbs found in the country, as well as how to use them to heal the sick.
One of the first major tasks of the interim committee would be to train traditional healers on how to claim from medical aid societies.
Measures would also be put in place to protect the integrity of the profession, and to discipline healers who issue false sick notes to people or who submit fraudulent claims to medical aid societies.
Rose Mdlalose, human resources programme and planning director at the Health of Department, confirmed that the act would give traditional healers legal recognition of their work as health practitioners.
She said the council would serve as the industry regulator and address various issues which affect the healers, including quality control, training and accreditation.
Mdlalose said the issues of claiming from medical aids and granting sick notes still needed further investigation.