Traditional healers for mental health care in Africa.

Article English OPEN
Patel, V (2011)
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis Open
  • Journal: Global Health Action, volume 4 (issn: 1654-9880, eissn: 1654-9716)
  • Related identifiers: pmc: PMC3150105, doi: 10.3402/gha.v4i0.7956
  • Subject: PhD REVIEW | Commentary

Global mental health is primarily concerned with reducing inequalities in the access to health care and health outcomes for people with mental illness within and between countries (1). Reducing the vast treatment gap and promoting the rights of people with mental illness to live with dignity are major goals of adherents of the field such as the Movement for Global Mental Health ( In this context, the thesis by Abbo summarised in her PhD Review paper in Global Health Action (2) is a timely reminder of the role of a key player in the mental health care system in African countries where the biomedical treatment gap is notably large - the traditional healer. Her series of studies in Uganda show that a variety of indigenous labels are used by traditional healers to describe what biomedical psychiatry categorises as psychotic disorders and that these are associated with a range of explanatory models, from supernatural/spiritual causes to somatic causes such as HIV. The prevalence of any mental illness amongst patients seeking help from traditional healers is very high and, notably, the vast majority of persons with psychotic disorders were also concurrently seeking help from the biomedical sector. There was a strong association of mental illness with indicators suggestive of poverty, such as lack of food or indebtedness and, amongst those patients who had a psychotic disorder, being in debt was associated with poorer outcomes. These findings serve to replicate a rich record of evidence from several countries in the region, going back several decades that testify to three major findings: severe mental illness is clearly recognised as causes of illness and suffering by indigenous communities, poverty and mental illness frequently co-exist, and traditional healers plays a prominent role in mental health care. Each of these findings has important implications for global mental health.(Published: 2 August 2011)Citation: Global Health Action 2011, 4: 7956 - DOI: 10.3402/gha.v4i0.7956
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