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

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs