Thursday, January 13, 2011

Witch doctor charlatanism!

The other day, a woman was carried into the clinic acting very strange and fighting her care takers. She foamed (literally) at the mouth and walked in stilted, jerky motions. It took her family a number of minutes to even get her in the door.

Such behavior is common for severe malarial patients and she was no exception. The doctors worked to get her the medicine she needed and monitored her all afternoon. As she recovered on our back porch -- Achem. I mean our in-patient room-- her family explained they first sought help from the local witch doctor.

Under his care, she didn’t improve even though he “removed” a shard of coal, a sliver of black wood and a dead beetle from her body. They even had proof. Untying her “sickness” from a plastic bag, her brother didn’t seem the least bit flustered as he showed us what they took out of her. Did he really believe that was what caused her malaria? I couldn’t tell.

The beetle, coal and wood.
When they told us how much it cost to get these things “removed” from her, I was simultaneously shocked and horrified. It cost them a weeks salary-- or 60 Sudanese pounds ($25). Charlatans!

My horror makes sense only when I explain that we charge our patients 2 pounds. The money they pay is just a one-time fee for a patient book.  All medicine and consultations are free. Knowing this, why go to the witch doctor first? I just can’t understand. I just can’t.

By that evening, she started acting normal again. And by the next morning, she was sitting up and brushing her teeth as I passed. Sane. She even smiled shyly in my direction. Not long after, we sent her home to the relief of her family. Healed.

I overheard Dennis (our clinical officer) encouraging them ‘to save their money next time and just come here.’ Her husband and brothers nodded in agreement, evidently pleased. I don’t want to speak ill of any of the witch doctors here. I don’t know any to speak ill of them. I just can’t help but wonder what they do when they get malaria....

Hopefully they take their own medicine and die!
Brother holding "sickness", sister behind him.