News / Africa

Traditional, Western Medicine Treat Cancer in Senegal

Zimbabwean healer Martha Katsande shows a traditional medicine in her surgery in Harare (File Photo).
Zimbabwean healer Martha Katsande shows a traditional medicine in her surgery in Harare (File Photo).
Amanda Fortier

With cancer rates in Senegal rising, traditional healers and medical doctors hope to collaborate for better treatment.

Serigne Samba Ndiaye was trained by his father as a traditional healer and herbalist. At his private clinic on the outskirts of Dakar, he treats everything from insomnia to cancer.

Ndiaye say he grinds kola nuts into a powder that he uses to treat breast cancer. Ndiaye says more and more of the 40 to 50 patients he sees each day are suffering from cancer, and they are increasingly turning to traditional medicine.

A few kilometers away in downtown Dakar, lines of men and women fill the hallways of the Cancer Institute, the only clinic of its kind in West Africa. Some patients are visiting from neighboring Mali, Mauritania, Guinea and The Gambia.  

Institute director Mammadou Diop says cancer in Africa is far different than when he was in  medical school.

Dr. Diop says at the time they called cancer ‘a disease of the rich’, and students were told it was an illness that only existed in Western countries.

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020 more than half of all cancer cases worldwide will be in developing countries, with a million new cases a year in Africa.

Dr. Diop says it is clear cancer rates are rising, with the most common forms in this country of 12 million people being cancer of the uterus, liver, blood, prostate and lymph nodes.

He says this is due to several factors, including an aging population, poor diet and lifestyle choices, a high rate of infectious disease, and an increased use of tobacco and alcohol.

Erick Gbodossou opened the Malango Center for Traditional Medicine in Fatick, about 150 kilometers southeast of Dakar. He believes the term "cancer" is not appropriate for Africans.

Dr. Gbodossou says they talk of cancer because of their education, which is colonial.  Africans believe that all illness is related to the environment.  It is not a virus or bacteria that brings on illness, but the surroundings that favor some infections over others.

Dr. Gbodossou says in this traditional view, the real cause of cancer is an imbalance in the energy that comes from where and how people live.

Nearly half of Senegal’s population lives in cities. In Dakar, the rapid rate of construction and the high cost of materials mean that some houses are built using garbage as filler because it is cheap and accessible.

The World Health Organization says with these piles of rotting trash and toxic waste come more illness, including tuberculosis, yellow fever and malaria.  Those illnesses weaken immunity and make people more susceptible to developing some forms of cancer.

In Senegal, traditional treatments rely largely on locally grown plants, such as kenkileba, tamarind and jatropha. But Dr. Gbodossou says treating cancer involves more than just herbs.

Dr. Gbodossou says there are important rites and rituals to re-establish the body’s equilibrium. There are also techniques and exercises to improve the energy, like deep breathing, organ massage, and what they call "causerie," which is a type of group discussion.

One of the attractions of traditional medicine is its price. The majority of Senegalese still live on about $2 a day, and Western medicine is expensive. Dr. Diop says only about one percent of the local population can afford pharmaceutical cancer drugs.

He says even those who can afford to see doctors are reluctant to admit they also consult traditional healers.

Dr. Diop says many of his patients are afraid of being stigmatized. They assume the medical community considers all traditional healers as charlatans.

The absence of laws to regulate herbal treatments or evaluate alternative rituals and techniques has made it easier for people to exploit the practice of traditional medicine.

Dr. Gbodossou says the art of healing, before colonization, did not have charlatans.  The art of healing was not a way to make money. Before working as a healer, they were also farmers or animal breeders. That gave them money to live.  We say a hungry healer cannot be real healer. So before colonization there was no reason to exploit each other.   We did it for free.

As cancer rates continue to climb in Senegal, doctors from both practices realize the importance of combining efforts.

Dr. Diop says Senegal's medical community can never do the same amount of research as Western countries, so they need to lift certain barriers and prejudices here so people can benefit from the best of both systems.

For traditional practitioners, there are still some stereotypes to overcome before they can prove their worth to the greater medical community.

Dr. Gbodossou says a type of hierarchy exists between the medical and traditional communities. But he is convinced that if the scientific and political communities collaborate with traditional doctors based on mutual-respect, everyone will benefit.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs