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Traditional medicine

Zambians choose Chinese cures

by Derrick Silimina


China’s ancient healing arts are gaining a strong following in Zambia. Residents of the south-central African country are increasingly visiting Chinese-owned clinics offering a variety of ancient cures, including acupuncture, herbal medicines, massage, exercise regimes, dietary therapies, and creams and ointments against aches.

Traditional Chinese cures avoid many side effects associated with modern medicine, its advocates say. At least 70% of Zambians use traditional medicine, according to the World Health Organization.

Zambia’s government has noticed the growing popularity of Chinese cures. Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya said recently the government is reviewing its rules on traditional medicine with a view toward making such practices more accessible. 

“We have identified the need to strengthen collaboration, in particular with China, in research on traditional herbal medicines,” the minister told a visiting delegation from Jiangxi University. “Zambia will collaborate to strengthen cultivation of medicinal plants and to share experience and knowledge.”

Chinese medical practitioners in Zambia have been happy to meet the growing demand. “I attend to patients suffering from stroke, HIV/AIDS, hypertension, paralysis and diabetes among others,” said Feng Kehong, owner of the Zhong Yi Surgery. She opened the private clinic in 2002, five years after arriving in Zambia.

Of the wide range of traditional Chinese cures on offer, acupuncture has seized Zambians’ imagination the most. In this traditional Chinese therapy, needles are inserted into affected points on the body to relieve pain and cure illnesses.

For Bernard Siwale, a Lusaka based taxi driver, the results of the procedure are worth some discomfort. He turned to the Zhong Yi surgery in Lusaka after modern medicine did not cure a partial paralysis he suffered early this year. “The doctor pricks you with small needles and you feel a slight discomfort,” he said. “After 30 minutes the needles are removed. The process is repeated for 10 days, but thereafter the pain disappears.”

Other patients area equally enthusiastic. “A Chinese health practitioner recommended herbal medicine and acupuncture for my abdominal pains, and after 10 days the pain was gone,” said Belinda Ngulube, a pharmacist. “Acupuncture is based on the interconnectivity of our hormones and nervous system. It has helped many patients.”

Three months of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines treatments were the solution to severe bleeding for Angela Nkandu, age 38. “I used to bleed badly even with a slight injury and conventional medicine couldn’t help much,” she said. “Doctor Tiang gave me blood boosters and acupuncture and it worked wonders.”

Traditional Chinese cures are longer-lasting than cures from modern medicine, according to Chris Banda, a teacher in eastern Zambia. He travelled to Lusaka for treatment at a private Chinese clinic and said it was worth the trip. “Western medicine couldn’t cure my chronic headache. Conventional medicine can reduce pain but afterwards the pain comes back.”

Derrick Silimina is a freelance journalist based in Lusaka, Zambia. He focuses on Zambian agriculture and sustainability issues.
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