Soap, shoe polish and antiseptic liquid mixed with traditional herbs to treat ailments have led to several deaths of infants and young children in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Now, says a Sunday Times report, through a community project with traditional healers, two nutritionists have turned the tide of fatalities linked to traditional remedies.
Alarmed at a high incidence of herbal intoxication and severe malnutrition, Collins Kwinda and Denisha Govender decided it was time to tackle the problem prevalent in greater Greytown, in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Dangerous concoctions are usually administered by parents and traditional healers to relieve constipation, cleanse the body of toxins, reduce a fever or stop diarrhoea.
The report says the the two nutritionists from Greytown Hospital have now been recognised by the KZN Health Department for helping reduce herbal intoxication by a third. They convened focus groups with traditional healers, helped train them and made them aware of the dangers of some remedies. The initiative led to a 33% reduction in herbal intoxication and severe acute malnutrition.
“We have been working on the interventions to reduce herbal intoxication since 2017,” said Kwinda. “Hospital records were showing that some children died due to herbal intoxication and the worst part was that they were taken to hospital when it was too late to treat the problem.”
Govender said about 111 traditional healers were trained last year to identify malnutrition. “With children under the age of five, it is important to seek medical advice prior to seeking other advice.”
The report says they described the process of changing the attitude of communities as “challenging”, because the use of traditional herbs was directly linked to certain cultural practices. Kwinda said the use of traditional herbs was also linked to spiritual healing and “chasing away evil spirits”.
He said herbal enemas were the main cause of diarrhoea, severe dehydration and acute malnutrition. “Stats have also shown that we admitted 55 severe acute malnutrition cases in 2016, 21 cases in 2017 and 28 in 2018,” said Kwinda.
He said in the report that the information helped healers diagnose malnutrition, dehydration and diarrhoea.The Times report