Webinar Discusses South Africa’s COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Strategy and the Role of Traditional Medicine Practitioners
Facilitator of the event and Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Professor Mosa Moshabela, highlighted the relevance of the webinar in the light of numerous vaccine sites being established around the country. Moshabela questioned the different roles of various members of society in the roll-out and invited the panellists to engage with him on the current progress of the strategy and the possibilities for the future.
The traditional medicine sector welcomes the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out but is concerned at not being fully involved in the process, according to the President of the Traditional Health Practitioners (THP) Business Council, Bishop Thulani Msomi.
Speaking during a webinar organised by UKZN’s Corporate Relations Division to examine the country’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out strategy and the role of traditional healers in it, Msomi noted how more than 80% of the South African population seeks traditional healthcare and called for government engagement in developing proper policies and structures to empower the sector to find solutions to the pandemic and contribute to the country’s economy.
UKZN’s Professor Nceba Gqaleni, focused on the contribution of THPs in the fight against COVID-19, focussing on the government of KwaZulu-Natal’s ‘development of an indigenous knowledge-based strategy to help mitigate COVID-19 and complement current biomedically-based efforts, which include the evaluation of local traditional medicine.’
He described the initiative as a grounded and Afrocentric approach that was centred on mental health providing a ‘pyscho-social response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of culture.’
Gqaleni said a partnership that existed between UKZN, the South African Medical Research Council and the Africa Health Research Institute was aimed at accelerating clinical trials on traditional medicine.
Highlighting the inequities that exist within the healthcare profession, Gqaleni urged South Africans to realise that everyone has a role to play in fighting the pandemic and to stand together against it.
Dr Fikile Ndlovu, Deputy Director-General: Provincial Strategic Management at the Office of the Premier in KwaZulu-Natal, reiterated the importance of communication and engagement during any pandemic and highlighted how these factors needed to be strengthened as the country geared up for the second phase of the vaccine roll-out.
Ndlovu highlighted how the second phase - for those 60 years and older - was currently concentrated in urban areas because of the use of the Pfizer vaccine which required storage in cold temperatures not always easily available in rural settings.
She mentioned the various vaccine registration options for those 60 years and older which include the website, WhatsApp and the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) registration - which does not require data or airtime. Ndlovu also spoke about Operation Sukuma Sakhe (OSS), a ward-based initiative that monitors vaccination sites and registrations and encouraged stakeholder participation to ensure that ‘no-one is left behind’.
Providing a student perspective, UKZN medical degree candidate Mr Mohamed Suleman said traditional medicine should be included in current health practices - if proven to be safe and effective. Suleman also examined the three key components in health practice, listing them as communication, knowledge and application.
In his closing remarks Moshabela said: ‘One of the important things that came out clearly from the webinar is that traditional health practitioners are still operating at the margins of the healthcare system. On the one hand, they are not formally recognised as health care workers and as result they were not engaged or trained on COVID-19-related matters, consequently not receiving any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) support to help protect them from infections when they see their patients.
‘On the other hand, they were invited to receive the vaccine in the closing stages of the Sisonke study and were expected to help mobilise their patients for vaccination although they were not trained on COVID-19 vaccines. This sort of problem has been going on for a long time, and needs to be urgently addressed, so THPs can formally take their place in the healthcare system.’
Words: Hlengiwe Khwela