The Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Associations (ZINATHA) was established in July 1980. In 1981, the Government of Zimbabwe passed a law known as the Traditional Medical Practitioners Act, which has assisted the development of traditional medicine in Zimbabwe in a number of ways. First, the Act recognized ZINATHA as the legal association to which all traditional health practitioners should belong. This status enabled them to organize themselves more openly and more effectively than in the past. Second, the Act established, in addition to the association, a traditional medicine council, officially known as the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council.
The establishment of ZINATHA and the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council has made research into traditional medicine in Zimbabwe easier than in the past. Many traditional health practitioners are now more willing to discuss their work than in the past. The stigma attached to traditional medicine during colonial times has largely been removed.
The year 1981 was also a major turning point in the history of antagonistic relationships between modern and traditional healing systems in Zimbabwe. Cooperation between the modern and the traditional medical systems is now possible and in fact encouraged. Although the State is officially concerned only with the modern sector, it has allowed the traditional sector to develop on its own without much government control. Traditional health practitioners were given, through their association and council, the main power in the selection and control of their activities.
The number of registered traditional health practitioners in ZINATHA is about 24 000. Registration is, however, continuing.
The basic organ of ZINATHA is a branch; the executive committee of a branch has 10 elected officials. At present there are 312 branches throughout the country. Between the branches and the national leadership is the district executive committee. In every administrative district of Zimbabwe there is at least one district executive committee of ZINATHA. Most administrative districts have two district executive committees of ZINATHA. The district executive committee has 10 members, who are also elected. There are at present 104 district executive committees. Above the district executive committee is the national executive committee, consisting of 16 elected officials, including the president of the association. National officials are elected every 5 years by all registered traditional health practitioners at a congress of the association. ZINATHA has five departments: finance, research, education, legal affairs, and AIDS education, which was established in January 1990.
Traditional health practitioners and AIDS control
ZINATHA joined the fight against the spread of AIDS in 1988. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the association organized two workshops in 1988. These workshops were mainly for members of the ZINATHA national executive committee and members of the council. A few district officials also attended. Again, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the association held four workshops in 1989. These workshops were mainly for ZINATHA district officials. In January 1990, ZINATHA embarked on a comprehensive community-based health education programme for HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, and care, with some financial assistance from donors.
The programme has three main objectives. First, it seeks to educate traditional health practitioners on AIDS/HIV awareness, prevention, and care and to encourage them to share their knowledge with the communities in which they work. Second, the programme hopes to increase awareness regarding the medical practices of the health practitioners themselves, in terms of their capacity both to transmit the virus and to become infected with HIV. Third, it seeks to promote greater communication and cooperation between traditional and modern forms of medicine.
A base-line survey of the programme was conducted between March and May 1990. The survey had three main objectives. First, to understand where the programme begins in terms of knowledge, attitudes, and practices, in order to monitor the impact of the provision of new information through the workshops. Second, to identify the most important information gaps, misconceptions, and requirements among participants and to advise on relevant workshop content. Third, to provide some indication of appropriate and effective means of providing this information.
The results of the survey indicated low levels of education and literacy, which means that workshops would have to concentrate on oral and pictorial methods of imparting information. A simple pamphlet in local languages was designed, containing basic information on HIV/AIDS and showing how the disease relates particularly to traditional health practitioners. Ten workshops for ZINATHA members are now being planned. Follow-up research will be carried out after the workshops have been held. Topics for workshops include the following: What is AIDS? How is AIDS spread? How healers might be at risk of contracting or transmitting the virus. How healers can protect themselves from contracting the disease or from spreading it. Signs and symptoms of HIV infection and AIDS. How it feels to be HIV-positive or have AIDS. Support that healers can give to HIV/AIDS sufferers and their families. The role that healers can play in HIV/AIDS diagnosis, referral, treatment, care, and counselling. The role that healers can play in HIV/AIDS education and awareness.
More workshops will be mounted in 1991 if funds are available, either from the Ministry of Health or from donors or both. ZINATHA cannot set up workshops on AIDS from its own resources.