Press Release

Cultural misconceptions around blood stem cell donation deter South Africans from saving lives

Why traditional healers and western medicine must work together

Last updated: 23/09/2022

Cape Town, September 22, 2022 – For a patient of African descent diagnosed with blood cancer or a blood disorder, the chances of finding a matching donor for a potentially life-saving blood stem cell transplant either on a national or international registry is less than 20%. This is because only 10% of donors in the registry are of African descent and the highest chance of finding a match comes from a patient’s own ethnic group as similar tissue characteristics are essential for a match.

Speaking in light of Heritage Month, Makhosi Nomabutho, founder of Sangoma Society and consultant to DKMS Africa, says “If trees are medicine, then how could our bodies not be medicine too? And, if there is medicine that lives within the blood and bones which have been lent to me by my ancestors, why shouldn’t I use it for healing and helping another person to live?”

To this end, she has registered as a blood stem cell donor. “I do not want to be in the position that a lot of people find themselves in, of not knowing where they will get a donor because there's no amount of money or influence that can change a person’s diagnosis– only more donors of African descent can.”

She shares that blood stem cell donation can raise issues not only amongst traditional healers but also amongst those who use their services –approximately 45% of the population[ii].

“Many people are cautious about their blood and blood stem cells since these contain the essence of your DNA and can be used to siphon your strength or as part of a hex against you, so they might be reluctant to donate,” explains Makhosi. “Additionally, there are those who navigate the healthcare space with mistrust of Western medicine and believe that blood and blood stem cell donation will mean that their power will be taken from them. Theories like this emanate from within the informal environment and thrive as we still recover from the impacts of colonisation. However, people then suffer when needing to find a match.”

With traditional healers having significant influence on the way in which an individual and community respond to cancer as a disease, its diagnosis, and its treatment[iii], Makhosi notes that a respect for Western medicine amongst healers is crucial. “Just as the work of traditional healers is God's work, so too is medical science. If someone with blood cancer or a blood disorder, for instance, were to come see me, I would try and help them gain access to an oncologist so that they could start the appropriate treatment. At the same time, I would work with them on the spiritual element of their disease. Additionally, as patients typically present with the physical manifestation of a spiritual malady, my role is to also help their doctors see this so that they can give the patient the holistic help that they need.”

“With between 60% and 80% of South Africans consulting a traditional healer before seeing a primary healthcare practitioner[iv], we have a responsibility to work holistically with them, which also means educating them and pointing them in the right direction to get treatment. Clearing up long held, yet misguided misconceptions standing in the way of their healing forms part of this too,” Makhosi concludes.

To register, please sign up at: https://www.dkms-africa.org/register-now. For more information, contact DKMS Africa on 0800 12 10 82.

[ii] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0975087814554070?journalCode=ioaa

[iii] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(22)00157-7/fulltext

[iv] https://silo.tips/download/traditional-medicine-plays-an-impor

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