Competing traditional and medical treatments of epilepsy in Harare, Zimbabwe


  • Jacob Mugumbate University of Newcastle
  • Gray Mel University of Newcastle

Mots-clés :

epilepsy, traditional treatment, medical treatment gap, Epilepsy Support Foundation (ESF), Zimbabwe


Introduction: Despite advances in antiepileptic medication and diagnostic technology, the medical treatment gap for epilepsy persists in the Global South due to misconceptions about epilepsy, continued use of traditional treatments, and lack of access to affordable medical interventions. In Africa, traditional treatments are linked to indigenous belief systems and practices, and the religious doctrines of Christianity or Islam. From a Western perspective, they are seen as alternative, complementary, or non-conventional healing practices. This study sought to understand the barriers to employment for people with epilepsy in Zimbabwe and found delayed access to medical treatment and continued adherence to traditional healing practices was an important factor. It is these findings this article reports on.

Participants and methods: This qualitative study involved in-depth interviews with 30 people with epilepsy in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. Participants comprised 13 males and 17 females aged between 15-64 years. Data were analysed using N-Vivo, a computer-assisted qualitative data analysis package. A focus group discussion was held with seven service providers at the Epilepsy Support Foundation (ESF), a private (voluntary) organisation found in 1990 by people with epilepsy led by Nicholas George. ESK provides psychological, educational, economic, social, and medical support to people with epilepsy. Preliminary findings from the in-depth interviews were presented to focus group participants to allow for further exploration of their experiences of working with, and employment barriers for, people with epilepsy.

Results: The study found that traditional healing was the first port of call for all the participants in this study, who had undergone several years of unsuccessful traditional remedies before they were able to access medical treatment. Even then, participants continued to use traditional remedies alongside medical treatment or to alternate between them.

Conclusion: Pervasive indigenous beliefs, family pressure, the unavailability or unaffordability of costly medical treatment, and lack of supportive health services were main contributors to the medical treatment gap for people living with epilepsy in Zimbabwe. To reduce this gap, there is a need to educate people about the nature and causes of epilepsy, its prevalence in the community, and ways to access affordable medical treatment; to ensure people with epilepsy have access to affordable antiepileptic medication and supportive health services, and that health workers are adequately trained to support them; and to ensure employment regulations remove barriers and restrictions for people with epilepsy in the workplace.

Bibliographies de l'auteur-e

Jacob Mugumbate, University of Newcastle

Social Work, School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Gray Mel, University of Newcastle

Professor of Social Work, School of Humanities and Social Sciences





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