Uganda’s witch doctors tackle mental illness
In a region teeming with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, a team of Ugandan mental-heath experts is seeking help from an unlikely group: faith healers, also known as witch doctors.
Using a Canadian grant, they’ve trained nearly 500 traditional healers and village elders to recognize the signs of mental illness and refer patients to psychiatrists, instead of using traditional treatments that can be ineffective and even harmful.
The program is funded by a $1-million grant from Grand Challenges Canada, an organization that supports global health initiatives. It comes four years after Ugandan health regulators started cracking down on dangerous practices — such as child sacrifices and mutilations — by witch doctors.
Now, a growing number of witch doctors are learning to act as a bridge between mentally ill patients and psychiatrists, says Dr. Herbert Muyinda, a social anthropologist at Makerere University in Kampala and project leader for the Grand Challenges Canada initiative.
Traditional healers have already referred hundreds of patients to hospitals as a result of the program.
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