Chinese in Cameroon Do Healthy Trade

The Dispatch (Accra), 29 August 2000

Accra—Cameroon is gripped by a bitter rivalry between its local doctors and traditional healers from China. The country has over the past four years witnessed a boom in Chinese traditional medicine as many locals shun Western drugs and local traditional herbs.

The proliferation of Chinese healers, clinics, shops, and even mobile drug vendors has been, to say the least, dramatic. The Chinese treat most diseases such as rheumatism, hypertension, typhoid fever and claim that their drugs can also treat AIDS by reducing its viral load in the body.

Almost every town in Cameroon now has at least one traditional Chinese clinic. There are up to six such clinics in big cities such as the capital, Yaounde and the commercial centre, Douala.

I prefer Chinese healers to local doctors now, student Fomusoh George, 27, told reporters in Bamenda, North West Cameroon.

Fomusoh recalled how he suffered chronic stomach ache for more than three years and all attempts by Western trained and local traditional doctors to treat the ailment failed. But after undergoing a two-month course of treatment at a Chinese clinic in Bamenda, his problem was cured.

Many patients who have used Chinese medication claim the drugs are effective, relatively cheap and the healers are more accessible than western trained doctors.

Beatrice Fuh, a locally trained nurse working for Chinese clinic, says out of 30 patients who visit the clinic every day, only one or two complain of being disastisfied with the treatment. Chinese healers however find it difficult when communicating with their mostly French or English speaking patients.

A local accountant, Ngwewasang Martin, went for Chinese treatment but his insurance company refused to re-imburse him because they could not read and understand his Chinese prescriptions.

Their drugs are very effective. I will still consult a Chinese clinic when I am sick even if my insurance company refuses to re-imburse me, he maintains.

To overcome the language barrier, the Chinese healers have had to hire local collaborators. The popularity of Chinese medicine has not gone down well with Western-trained doctors operating in Cameroon. They have dismissed most of the Chinese healers and their collaborators as quacks.

Doctor Folefac Alain, who works at the Bamenda government-owned hospital does not doubt the effectiveness of some Chinese healers.

But he said: So far, the patients I have been receiving (who were supposedly treated by Chinese healers) were poorly treated so I doubt if there are true Chinese healers in Cameroon. If there are, then Chinese medicine is bad medicine

During its recent general assembly, Cameroon's medical council - which brings together Western-trained and traditional doctors - heavily condemned the Chinese traditional healers.

They called on public health authorities to clamp down on foreign healers by vigorously regulating the health sector and exposing bogus medicinemen.

However, there is little that public health authorities can do due to lack of clear-cut regulatory rules in the country's health sector. The current boom in Chinese traditional healing might not last forever, but its presence is likely to linger on for some time as long as it continues to satisfy patients.