The role of traditional African Medicine in childhood cancer

 Dr. Othman EK Shem, Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) – June 25, 2014

Presentation at the SIOP-Africa-Conference (23-25 April 2014) on behalf of the delegation of traditional healers, represented by Dr. Othman EK Shem from Tanzania:

Dear Parents,

It gives me a great pleasure on behalf all traditional healers, not only those from Tanzania but also those from other parts of the world, to present at the 11th Meeting of SIOP-Africa together with the 3rd ICCCPO Africa Regional Meeting.

We hope it will be a forum for learning for and from traditional healers, medical doctors and parents. Traditional healers give special thanks to the local organizing committee of the 3rd ICCCPO Africa Regional Meeting  and 11th SIOP-Africa conference for opening the door for traditional healers to participate in this conference.

Traditional African Medicine

Traditional African Medicine refers to the holistic discipline involving indigenous herbalism and African spirituality – typically involving diviners, midwives, and herbalists.

Traditional healers claim to be able to cure and manage various and diverse conditions such as cancer, high blood pressure, cholera, most venereal diseases, asthma, fever, depression, urinary tract infections, gout, ulcers, healing of wounds; and we manage the care and possible cure of HIV patients, by using medicinal plants (herbal remedy).

For those who are critically ill, we take care of their spiritual needs before they die because it is the only true way to ensure that nobody appeals to Death.

The role of traditional healers

Traditional healers play a key role in fighting diseases in the community due to the fact that healers are the first point of care through spiritualism and materialism for traditional communities .

Traditional healers reach the diagnosis through spiritual and material means, for example, verbal explanation, visual symptoms and the like.

A treatment is prescribed, usually consisting of herbal remedies that not only have healing abilities but also have symbolic and spiritual significance.

How do traditional medical practitioners acquire knowledge?

Many traditional healers are people without formal education. They receive informal education and acquire knowledge, skills and properties of medicinal plants and their effect on the human body from their forbearers. Tradition healers also have deep and personal involvement in the healing process and protect the therapeutic knowledge by keeping it a secret.

Area of specialization of the traditional healer

The practitioners of traditional medicines specialize in a particular area of their profession such as:

  1. Expert in herbalism
  2. Expert in spiritual healing
  3. Expert in a combination of both forms of practice
  4. Traditional bone setters
  5. Experts in birth attendance; midwives also make intensive use of indigenous plants to aid child birth

How to become a traditional healer

Traditional healers learn, acquire knowledge skills attitudes through informal education, for example:

  1. Traditional healers learn through personal experience. While being treated as a patient, one decides to become a healer upon recovery.
  2. Some become traditional healers through spiritual calling, thus treatments are decided through supernatural power.
  3. In some cultures, a sign of calling to become a traditional healer can come from mental disarrangement said to be caused by the divine spirit, through which the healer gains inspiration.
  4. Another route is when a traditional healer acquires knowledge, skills and attitude passed down informally from close family members such as father, uncle, mother, aunt (in the case of midwives) and numerous others.

However, the training of traditional healer is complex, depending on the kind of medical practice which the practitioner wants to be part of. Once training as a healer is officially initiated, in some societies they are considered to be half-man and half-spirit.

Childhood Cancer Symptoms

Traditional medical practitioners also claim to manage the early stages of childhood cancer, but they cannot specifically spell out the types, causes and preventions of childhood cancer.

How Traditional Healers detect childhood cancer symptoms

Traditional medicine detect signs of childhood cancer from the spiritual and materialistic point of view. In particular, if a child shows the following signs:

  • Prolonged and gradually getting worse from a disease
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Increasing swelling and decreased activity
  • Constant infection or a wound which does not heal
  • Persistent fever of unknown origin
  • Eye or vision change (white pupil)
  • Persistent pain in bones, i.e. joints, legs

How Traditional medical practitioners work with childhood cancer

Traditional medical practitioners use spiritualism and materialism to treat childhood cancer.

Some traditional medical practitioners employ the use of incarnations and casting of spells in their treatments.

The dualistic nature of traditional African medicine between the body and the soul, matter and spirit, and their interactions with one another are also seen as a form of magic.
A. Simba (a famous traditional healer in Tanzania) gives a form of magic called “MUZIMU” and Richard Onwambe (a famous traditional healer from Nigeria) calls his healing ’Extra Sensory Trajection.’

For traditional healers, the act of healing childhood cancer is also considered a religious act. Thus, the healing process often attempts to appeal to God because it is ultimately God who inflicts sickness like cancer and also provides a cure. Traditional healers have a religious world view which makes them aware of the possibility of divine or spirit interaction when healing, which is why many traditional healers refer to The Supreme God as the source of their medical power.


Traditional healers use medicinal plants in the treatment of many diseases and illness because of the fact that Africa is endowed with many plants that can be used for medicinal purposes. Traditional healers have taken full advantage of this fact.

The medicinal plants chosen by traditional healers not only have healing abilities but they also often have symbolic and spiritual significance as well. For example:  Leaves, seeds and twigs that are white black and red are seen as especially symbolic or magical and have special properties that help the process of healing.


Traditional healers use a wide variety of treatments ranging from magic to biomedical methods such as fasting and dieting, herbal therapeutic bathing, massage, surgical procedures and prayer.

I invite you to let us work together.

Thank you

Dr. Othman EK Shem – Dar es Salaam