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Free Content Local perceptions of tuberculosis in a rural district in Malawi

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SETTING: Ntcheu district, Malawi.

OBJECTIVE: To determine 1) the number of patients treated by traditional healers, 2) the type of diseases managed by them, 3) the perceived causes of these disease, and 4) how both patients and healers looked at tuberculosis (TB).

DESIGN: In-depth interviews and structured questionnaires with traditional healers, and focus group discussions with TB patients and their guardians.

RESULTS: Traditional healers recognized four main causes of disease, related to why the patient is sick rather than what the patient is suffering from. Two hundred and seventy-six traditional healers saw approximately 4600 patients a week, managing a variety of diseases, mainly of a chronic nature. Twenty-four per cent of patients seen by traditional healers had a cough, including patients with TB. Traditional healers believe they can cure TB, and have therefore been briefed on the infectious form of TB (smear-positive cases). The possibility of including traditional healers in early diagnosis has been explored.

CONCLUSION: There is a need to address local beliefs in health education and possibly find ways of involving healers in supervision of treatment.
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Keywords: Malawi; sub-Saharan Africa; traditional healers; tuberculosis

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: National Tuberculosis Control Programme, Community Health Science Unit, Lilongwe, Malawi

Publication date: 2000-11-01

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  • The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease publishes articles on all aspects of lung health, including public health-related issues such as training programmes, cost-benefit analysis, legislation, epidemiology, intervention studies and health systems research. The IJTLD is dedicated to the continuing education of physicians and health personnel and the dissemination of information on tuberculosis and lung health world-wide.

    Certain IJTLD articles are selected for translation into French, Spanish, Chinese or Russian. They are available on the Union website

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