Kieran O'Brien

Examining the role of traditional healers in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer patients in Kumasi, Ghana

AUTHORS: O'Brien KS, Thaivalappil S, Awuah B, Osei-Bonsu E, Quayson SE, Abontanga F, Adjei E, Soliman AS, Merajver SD

The most significant challenges Ghana faces in cancer control and prevention are late presentation and delayed treatment, both of which contribute to increased morbidity and mortality from cancer (1). Studies on breast cancer treatment in Accra, Ghana indicate that the pursuit of alternative forms of treatment, namely traditional herbal and spiritual therapies, are among the main reasons for both late presentation as well as delayed or uncompleted treatment (2-3). Moreover, the World Health Organization estimates that 80% of the Ghanaian population relies on traditional medicine as its first point of contact for health care (4). Though it is clear that traditional healers are involved in the treatment and care of cancer patients, this role has been little studied. More research is needed to better understand the involvement of traditional healers in cancer in Ghana in order to identify areas where collaboration can be strengthened, and prevention and treatment of cancer can be improved.

The objective of this project is to better understand the involvement of traditional medical practitioners in cancer in Kumasi, Ghana. Specifically, this project aims to: 1) determine the number and distribution of cancer patients seen by traditional healers; 2) assess the traditional healers knowledge of and approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment; 3) assess the current extent of collaboration between traditional and orthodox practitioners. Successful realization of these aims will aid in identifying key points in patients care seeking process where increased collaboration between traditional and orthodox practitioners can reduce late-stage presentation and improve cancer control and prevention.

This project will be undertaken in collaboration with the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with traditional healers practicing in the Kumasi area. References from trained medical herbalists from the Department of Herbal Medicine and KNUST as well as the KATH medical director will be utilized to identify traditional healers to be interviewed. The interview instrument will be pilot-tested on a small group of traditional healers and then further refined and finalized with the help of KATH and KNUST collaborators. As the interviews will be conducted in Twi, one trained medical herbalist will serve as a translator for all interviews.

1. Awuah, B. Cervical Cancer in Ghana. Presented at the Breast and Cervical Cancer in North Africa and the Middle East CGH International Symposium, Cairo, Egypt. 2010.
2. Clegg-Lamptey JN, Dakubo JC, Attobra YN. Psychosocial aspects of breast cancer treatment in Accra, Ghana. East African Medical Journal. 2009; 86(7):348-53.
3. Clegg-Lamptey JN, Dakubo JC, Attobra YN. Why do breast cancer patients report late or abscond during treatment in Ghana? A pilot study. Ghana Medical Journal. 2009. 43(3);127-131.
4. World Health Organization. Department of Essential Medicines and Pharmaceutical Policies: Medicines Publications and Documentation. Legal Status of Traditional Medicine and Complementary/Alternative Medicine: A Worldwide Review. 2001;16-18.

About Kieran
Kieran graduated from the University of Michigan in 2008 with a B.A. in International Development and a minor in French and Francophone studies. She graduated from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 2012 with an M.P.H in International Health Epidemiology.