Before independence, health services were fragmented along racial lines, and traditional medicine was outlawed. After Namibia’s independence in 1990, traditional medicine was legalized. Since then, the Ministry of Health and Social Services has adopted the primary health care approach to the delivery of health services, and major restructuring has been undertaken. The Namibia Eagle Traditional Healers Association was created in 1990.
According to the 1994 Lumpkin Report, there is at least one traditional medicine practitioner per 500 people in the Kavango and Owambo regions. In the Caprivi region, there is about one traditional medicine practitioner per 300 people. In Windhoek (Katutura), the ratio is one traditional medicine practitioner per 1000 people. There are three chiropractors practising in Namibia.
A joint study by the Ministry of Health and Social Services and World Health Organization in 1997 reported that traditional medicine practitioners in Namibia can be classified as herbalists, faith-herbalists, diviner-herbalists, diviners, faith healers, and traditional birth attendants.
The Official National Primary Health Care/Community-based Health Care Guidelines were launched in 1992.
In 1994, Lumpkin carried out a preliminary survey on the use of traditional medicine in the country. The resulting report, Traditional Healers and Community Use of Traditional Medicine in Namibia, was submitted to the Ministry of Health and Social Services. Also in 1994, the Namibian Parliament passed an act requiring all health workers, including traditional medicine practitioners, to become legally registered. The act delegated each professional group to elect a board to facilitate the registration process. In 1996, the Namibian Traditional Medical Practitioners Board was created.
In 1997, the Ministry of Health and Social Services and the World Health Organization jointly undertook a study entitled Scientific Evaluation, Standardization, and Regulation of Traditional Medical Practices in Namibia. The findings of this study guided the development of the 1998 draft Traditional Healers Bill. They were also used to prioritize activities and to inform the planning process for the 2000-2002 program on the regulation and integration of traditional medicine.
The Traditional Healers Bill will establish the Traditional Healers Council to oversee the registration and regulation of the practice of traditional medicine providers. The Council will be given the task of supervising and controlling the practice of traditional medicine practitioners, fostering research into traditional medicines, and making loans or grants available to traditional health practitioners. Traditional medicine practitioners in Namibia, many of whom come from other African countries, are not currently registered and operate without any guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Social Services. The aim of the Bill is to protect the public from dangerous and opportunistic practices as well as to promote acceptable aspects of traditional medicine in Namibia.
Once legislation is in place, the Government intends to include traditional medicine practitioners in community-based health care programs and incorporate the traditional medical system into the country’s official health services referral system.
The Allied Health Service Professions Act of 1993 permits the relevant Minister to create a professional board to regulate the chiropractic profession. The objectives of the board, stated in Section 2, shall be to assist in promoting health, oversee professional training, and control the practice of chiropractic.
Education and Training
According to the joint study by the Ministry of Health and Social Services and World Health Organization in 1997, all traditional medicine practitioners, except traditional birth attendants, undergo apprenticeships ranging from one to three years.