Muti hospitals do a roaring trade

But health inspectors remain watchful, writes Wonder Hlongwa

Durban health authorities are concerned about traditional healers’ hospitals which are springing up in the city and may not conform to health regulations.

At the corner of Brand and Moore roads in Durban is a two-storey building belonging to Judas Milazi, a traditional healer who operates a hospital with nine nurses, eight wards and a dispensary stocked with herbs and traditional muti.

The hospital opened its doors in April last year. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and patients have been flocking to it from all over the country.
Milazi has been a traditional healer for more than 25 years, working from home. With the increase in the numbers of patients seeking cures, he ran out of treatment space and decided to open a hospital.

He has an agreement with the Natal Parks Board to collect herbs for his dispensary from land the board administers. He also collects herbs from Tanzania, Sudan, Zambia and Cameroon.

On the ground floor is a room with bones on the floor. This is Milazi’s consulting room, where he communicates with his ancestors and prays to God that his patients will recover.

Samuel Moshashane from the Free State is in one of the wards. He has come to seek treatment for his painful legs, and claims that on his second day at the hospital he is already feeling better.

In his advertising pamphlets Milazi boasts that he can cure all diseases. He is one of the few traditional healers who admits, however, he can’t cure Aids. “But we do have herbs that can keep an Aids patient alive longer than anticipated.”

The hospital is clean and professionally run, and is frequently visited by health inspectors in the province.

Says Hugh Singh, principal environmental officer in the Durban city health department: “We check conditions at the hospital, like whether they separate patients who have infectious diseases from those who don’t, see if their wards are properly ventilated, the kitchen is clean - all those things, even the structure of the hospital.”

The health department is teaching “unregistered” institutions about the basic health requirements for hospitals. They are unregistered because they do not meet the requirements of the regulations governing private hospitals.

Singh says the kitchen facilities in many traditional hospitals are inadequate, and some do not have adequate hygiene. His department is conducting a survey of traditional hospitals, examining how many beds each has, how often they wash linen, how they dispose of medical waste and other health-related issues.

A traditional hospital in Gale Street has been closed because of a lack of hygiene, and another on West Street has been asked to submit plans to the health department so that the owner can be advised on structural defects.

Singh says the other three traditional hospitals in Durban are in a satisfactory condition and their traditional healers have agreed that if they cannot heal their patients, they will take them to the provincial hospitals.

The Sunshine Traditional Hospital, which was one of the first to open in Durban in November 1996, is badly resourced but financially successful. It claims it has 15 000 regular patients, but it has only nine beds and two wards.

It often does not have enough blankets are there are no wheelchairs or proper nutrition. However, it only charges R30 a day for admission, patients’ clothing is washed and nurses bring bedpans to the wards because there are not enough toilets.

Previously Sunshine had 10 registered nurses, but because of the “economic situation” it had to retrench five. Most of the healers initially employed there have since left to open their own hospitals.

Although most medical aid companies are reluctant to pay for traditional hospital consultations, Bonitas Medical Aid has taken the lead, and Sunshine is recommending that its patients join the scheme.

The hospital has also established the Bright Future Nursing Training Institute and is recruiting prospective traditional nurses.

Petros Gwala, Sunshine’s managing director, says the hospital wants to train the nurses “in a Western style” so that they can use drips and other essential medical equipment.

The one-year training course includes practical stints at traditional hospitals where the trainee nurses can see how the doctors operate.

“Sometimes they don’t understand when a patient comes for treatment, maybe we ugcaba [cut] them. So we explain why we sometimes have to cut our patients,” Gwala said.

He says doctors at provincial hospitals refer patients to Sunshine when they cannot treat them successfully. Sunshine also runs Aids-awareness campaigns for patients at provincial hospitals.

A senior nurse at Durban’s Addington Hospital says patients usually prefer traditional healers to Westernised hospitals because of beliefs.

“Some patients ... believe someone is cursing them, or their ancestors have turned their backs on them. So they need to consult someone who has access to ancestors.

“Some demand that impepho [incense] is burned inside a provincial hospital ward and that is not allowed. When you refuse permission, they leave.”

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