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Collaboration or renunciation? The role of traditional medicine in mental health care in Rwanda and Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

Journal article
Authors Isabell Schierenbeck
Peter Johansson
Lena Andersson
Gunilla Krantz
Joseph Ntaganira
Published in Global Public Health
Volume 13
Issue 2
Pages 159-172
ISSN 1744-1692
Publication year 2018
Published at Institute of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine
Department of Social Work
School of Global Studies
Pages 159-172
Language en
Keywords Rwanda, South Africa, traditional medicine, right to mental health, global health systems
Subject categories Public health science


Traditional medicine (TM) and biomedicine represent parallel health systems in many developing countries; the latter dominating in public policies, while the former still retain considerable influence among the general public. This study investigates how mental health care professionals responsible for mental health care implementation comprehend and relate to the intersection between TM and biomedicine in the cases of Rwanda and the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. The material is based on semi-structured interviews with mental health care stakeholders in Eastern Cape, South Africa and Rwanda. The findings confirm an impact of TM in the treatment of mental health issues in Rwanda and South Africa due to TM being more accessible than biomedical medicine, widespread traditional perceptions of mental illness in society, and the lack of knowledge of biomedical treatments. Furthermore, the respondents identified three strategies to manage the impact of TM; improved accessibility of biomedical facilities, outreach education about mental illness, and, in the Eastern Cape case, collaboration between traditional healers and biomedicine. The study points to the necessity to take TM into consideration as an important component of health systems and policies in the Global south.

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