The belief in natural healing powers

Traditional medicine plays an important role in the Central African Republic. I have more critical view of the issue, because unfortunately we encounter it in two specific situations in hospital: in emergency cases and at discharges against medical advice.

It is her second assignment abroad, her first with Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Sylvia Schaber is an internist and works for us in Bossangoa in the Central African Republic. In her blog, the young doctor talks about new experiences and inspiring people, but also about hard reality and difficult challenges.

The médicine traditional, i.e. the treatment of health complaints with natural recipes, plays an im-portant role in the Central African Republic. This is also true here in Bossangoa and we witness it quite often at the hospital. The belief in natural healing powers is strong and widespread. There are certainly many good reasons for this and probably people have had positive experiences with it. Coming from western medicine, however, I have a somewhat more critical view on the subject. Especially since we encounter it in two very specific places in the hospital: on the one hand in the emergency room and on the other hand when patients want to be discharged from the hospital against medical advice.

We only see if it doesn't work.

So we only deal with the complicated or unpleasant cases in which natural remedies have undesirable side effects. For example, I had recently taken in a 13-year-old boy with a ring-shaped burn around his thigh. The same leg was swollen around the ankle and lower leg. After a longer anamnesis, it became clear that a cover with plants had been placed around the thigh to heal the already existing swelling. After this treatment, the severe burn-like wound had developed. So now, the boy had two problems.

Another time, a man came with acute abdominal pain. He told me the pain came suddenly in the morning, along with diarrhoea and vomiting. The examination revealed a very painful abdomen, which was not at all typical of a common gastrointestinal infection. So I called in a surgeon. My colleague from Central Africa found out in his anamnesis that the man had taken a traditional medicine against his hepatitis C disease in the morning. Fortunately, the next day the patient was much better and could be discharged.

Left helpless

Traditional medicine is the most common reason for dismissal against medical advice. Mostly these are very serious cases: fractures of the upper leg, blood poisoning with coma, meningitis, etc. For all these cases we have good treatment options. But people simply trust what they have known all their lives. Just today, a patient with blood poisoning, who is in a deep coma, was carried out of our hospital - de-spite long attempts to convince his relatives. Such decisions often leave me helpless.