CVB Intern Interviews Traditional Healers for Comparison Project

Senior biology student Joe Babinski of Stony Brook University met with three traditional healers from the area surrounding Centre ValBio on Jan. 7, 2016. Babinski is meeting with these healers to gather information for his internship project.

“My project is a comparison of the type of care that the Malagasy people are getting from the traditional healers and from the Western Health Team that operates out of the center,” Babinski explains, “it seems to me that depending on what type of illness they have, people will choose either the health team or a traditional healer.” “So far I have spoken with three or four traditional healers and asked them questions about the types of illness they see, the way they treat those illnesses, and the training that they’ve gotten,” he continued.

To gather information, Babinski sets out each morning with CVB Biodiversity Assistant Dina Heriala as his guide, and he attends arranged meetings with traditional healers. The first stop on this day’s journey was at a tiny house down the road from the town of Ranomafana to meet a midwife.

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The midwife explains her methods while the village children watch. Veronica Tuazon/CVB Rainforest News

The 57-year-old woman sat on the floor of her home with a baby in her lap as the children of the village crowded at the door to catch a glimpse of the strange visitors. Through Babinski’s questions and Heriala’s translations, the midwife explained how she learned her skills through her grandmother, and named a few plants that she uses for her treatments.

After saying thank you and goodbye, Heriala lead Babinski to the home of another midwife who lives in a village directly above Ranomafana. This midwife explained that she has been practicing for 16 years, and that she works closely with the hospital in town. Babinski was elated to hear this information. “That’s exactly what I was hoping for,” he exclaimed after the interview, “some kind of relationship.”

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The second midwife sits in her home listening for the translation of Babinski’s interview questions. Veronica Tuazon/CVB Rainforest News

The duo then descended back into town to meet a healer that specializes in burns and sore throats. At his small storefront in Ranomafana, he explained how he used ginger as a treatment for many ailments, and occasionally gave his patients Amoxicillin, which is a western antibiotic. With this new information, Babinski speculated that “traditional healers play an important cultural role, and fulfill a medical role when necessary, but those who are close enough [to the hospital] and can afford it prefer Western medicine.”

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The burn healer stands at his counter in front of his medicinal plant products. Veronica Tuazon/CVB Rainforest News

Babinski still has to continue his research by joining the traveling medical team for their next expedition on Jan. 14, but so far he believes that “there seems to be three factors for choosing a healer: proximity, cost, and comfort.”

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Joe Babinski interviewing a Malagasy traditional healer. Veronica Tuazon/CVB Rainforest News

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