The role of traditional and faith healers in the treatment of dementia in Tanzania and the potential for collaboration with allopathic healthcare services

Guy Hindley, John Kissima, Lloyd L. Oates, Stella-Maria Paddick, Aloyce Kisoli, Christine Brandsma, William K. Gray, Richard W. Walker, Declare Mushi and Catherine L. Dotchin
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Background low diagnostic rates are a barrier to improving care for the growing number of people with dementia in sub-Saharan Africa. Many people with dementia are thought to visit traditional healers (THs) and Christian faith healers (FHs) and these groups may have a role in identifying people with dementia. We aimed to explore the practice and attitudes of these healers regarding dementia in rural Tanzania and investigate attitudes of their patients and their patients’ carers.

Methods this was a qualitative study conducted in Hai district, Tanzania. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of THs and FHs and a purposive-stratified sample of people with dementia and their carers. Interview guides were devised which included case vignettes. Transcripts of interviews were subject to thematic analysis.

Findings eleven THs, 10 FHs, 18 people with dementia and 17 carers were recruited. Three themes emerged: (i) conceptualisation of dementia by healers as a normal part of the ageing process and no recognition of dementia as a specific condition; (ii) people with dementia and carer reasons for seeking help and experiences of treatment and the role of prayers, plants and witchcraft in diagnosis and treatment; (iii) willingness to collaborate with allopathic healthcare services. FHs and people with dementia expressed concerns about any collaboration with THs.

Conclusions although THs and FHs do not appear to view dementia as a specific disease, they may provide a means of identifying people with dementia in this setting.