Clinical lead Doctor Al Story points to an x-ray showing a pair of lungs infected with TB (tuberculosis) during an interview with Reuters on board the mobile X-ray unit screening for TB in Ladbroke Grove in London January 27, 2014. The only mobile unit testing for TB in the country works with the most vulnerable to the disease including the homeless, drug and alcohol dependent. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY)

Cape Town - Traditional healers seem to be popular among tuberculosis sufferers, with almost half of all TB patients consulting them before getting diagnosed at clinics or hospitals.

A pilot project – carried out by the US Aid TB Programme, Durban University of Technology, KwaZulu-Natal Health Department and KZN Traditional Health Practitioners in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal – found at least 41 percent of TB patients used traditional healers first before Western medicine.

Researchers also found 84 percent of TB patients would rather have a traditional healer as a treatment supervisor than public health supervisors. About 40 percent disclosed that they had been seen by a healer at some point before their diagnosis.

The pilot project, which aimed to create relationships between healers and the formal health-care sector through the training of the healers in TB care, found most healers were keen to work with health workers.

After training in TB screening and referral of patients, 88 percent of healers reported having referred patients with possible TB to hospitals. About 92 percent were willing to act as treatment supervisors.

Research has found traditional healers could serve as credible supporters to patients on TB treatment. Healers were believed to serve a large number of people who might have TB, particularly in rural areas.

Through training they were expected to know signs and symptoms of TB, have counselling skills and learn how to manage treatment defaulters.

Speaking at the SA TB conference in Durban, Professor Nceba Gqaleni, of Durban University of Technology, said after the pilot study, which trained more than 500 healers, 559 patients suspected of having TB were referred to hospitals.

About 59 percent were female, 32 percent were male and almost 10 percent were children.

Of the almost 20 000 patients they saw, they referred more than 360 they suspected of being HIV positive for counselling and testing. Just over 40 men were referred for medical circumcision while 14 patients were referred for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

As a result of the project, which also allowed healers to sign referral forms, local health facilties had agreed to open files for referred patients, to investigate symptoms and keep records of referrals to give feedback to traditional healers.

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Cape Argus