Travelling through the 27-kilometre narrow and bumpy dirty road from Bolero Health Centre to Jumbi in Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe, one does not fail to notice the unmet needs of health care services which leave the masses scrambling for alternative sources.
However, it is not the best stop gap in the area. But in desperation, this is what they have.
Seeing that government has no plans to construct a health facility in his area, group village head Matupi asked Eva Demaya Centre (a non-governmental organisation [NGO] in the district that offers homeopathy services) if they can offer services in the area.
“We have been suffering, when sick we had nowhere to go as it is hard to access Bolero Health Centre. Those who do not have push bicycles suffer and die from curable diseases. I, therefore, asked the centre to give us a homeopathy clinic,” Matupi says.
Ruth Kanyerere-Gondwe, 55, from Jumbi devotes her time in assisting the sick.
For six years, Gondwe has been working as a homeopath treating people with different ailments at the hard to reach area of Jumbi; attending to many patients a day.
As a homeopath, she offers alternative medicine that stimulates the body’s own healing response to disease. The medicines are prepared following a well-defined procedure, starting from substances derived from mineral, herbal and animal worlds.
World Health Organisation (WHO) in its Safety issues in the preparation of homeopathic medicines defines homeopathy as a system of medicine using preparations of substances whose effects, when administered to healthy subjects, correspond to the manifestations of the disorder in the individual patients. It treats patients with heavily diluted preparations of substances which in their undiluted form are thought to cause effects similar to the symptoms presented.
Among other ailments, Gondwe assists people with malaria, heart and stomach disorders as well as continuous menses.
“We go deeper with cases by starting with the mind to general diagnosis,” she explains.
Gondwe was trained at the Eva Demaya Centre in the district.
Director of the centre, Jacquiline Kouwenhoven, who is also Rumphi West Member of Parliament (MP), boasts of homeopathy as a medical system that has no side effects and cheaper than conventional medicines.
However, the WHO report states that “there are a few aspects of the production of homeopathic medicines that could constitute potential safety hazards.”
Although homeopathy has been there for 200 years and used in Europe and Australia among others, measuring its effectiveness is still work in progress, according to Internet sources.
A statement Kouwenhoven does not agree with.
“I do not agree with them. Homeopathy is effective; but like any other medicines, it depends on the homeopath offering the service which is the same with conventional medical doctors,” she explains.
But on August 20, 2009 the BBC published a report which said according to WHO, people with conditions such as HIV, TB, influenza, infant diarrhoea and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments.
The report further said WHO was responding to calls from the group voice of Young Science Network which feared that the promotion of homeopathy in the developing world could put people’s lives at risk.
“Homeopathy does not protect people from, or treat, these diseases. Those of us working with the most rural and impoverished people of the world already struggle to deliver the medical help that is needed.”
“When homeopathy stands in place of effective treatment, lives are lost. We hope that by raising awareness of the WHO’s position on homeopathy we will be supporting those people who are taking a stand against these potentially disastrous practices,” reads the report.
On the contrary Kouwenhoven says homeopathy services are a way to go for remote areas like Jumbi which are cut off during the rainy season.
“People suffer in cases of health care; hence operating a homeopathy service in this area will help them. It is a complete way of helping patients and we attend to everyone apart from surgical and maternity cases,” Kouwenhoven states.
She says homeopaths encourage HIV positive patients to attend ART clinics.
Explains Kouwenhoven: “It is the same as conventional hospitals where, patients who do not get cured, seek treatment elsewhere; in our case, if the case is serious, we refer to government hospitals.”
However, government of Malawi does not recognise homeopathy practice as it is not regulated.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe says government does not recognise homeopathy.
“No, we do not recognise it,” Chikumbe says.
This confirms why the clinic is called a practice in the first place and registered with the Registrar of Companies under Ministry of Industry and Trade.
On this, Kouwenhoven says “Malawi does not have any law about complimentary medicine, so we registered with the Registrar of Companies for us to operate.”
She, however, says discussions are underway to have it regulated.
She cites countries like Tanzania and South Africa which benefits from homeopathy.
Abel Kawonga, registrar of the Medical Council of Malawi (MCM), had this to say: “I don’t know from the constitutional point of view, but from Medical Practitioners Act there is option for alternative treatment care, it is not disallowed.”
But the Medical Practitioners and Dentist Act Part xiii subsection 61 talks about African therapeutics only: “Nothing contained in this Act shall be construed to prohibit or prevent the practice of any African system of therapeutics by such persons in Malawi; Provided that nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize the performance by a person practicing any African system of therapeutics of any act which is dangerous to life.”