Traditional healers, or Temne doctors, are popular in Sierra Leone, where traditional culture and secret societies take up a great part of everyday life.
Alusine Fofonah works as a traditional healer. He is certified by the Sierra Leone Indigenous Traditional Healers’ Union (SLITHU) and has also received 3 years of training in Guinea. People visit his home presenting all kinds of sicknesses. Temne doctors like Alusine have their own personal way to diagnose and cure patients. This often involves contact and collaboration with a spirit.
“Most people use both traditional and Western medicines. However, there are things that only Temne medicines can cure, like devil possession and elephantiasis. However, neither Temne nor Western medicine can cure Ebola”. (Alusine Fofonah, traditional healer)
When the diagnosis is made, Alusine goes to the bush to find herbal remedies for the treatment: black powder for erectile dysfunction, leaves for stomach ache, and roots to grind for evil spirit protection.
Sierra Leone Indigenous Traditional Healers Union (SLITHU) certifies traditional healers. The institution is recognized by the state, but it is run by private donors. SLITHU includes about 37,000 licensed healers. Traditional healers are recognized by various stakeholders as an important part of the Sierra Leonean healthcare system and many organisations collaborate with traditional healers when attempting to improve public health.
At the marketplace in Makeni a woman is selling traditional herbal medicines. The black block is for malaria, the most common cause of illness and death in Sierra Leone.
Medicines, traditional as well as Western, are often sold like other everyday commodities and are freely accessible to anyone with money. The unrestricted sell makes medicines available for all layers of the society, however, safety might be compromised.