Witch-doctors are a thing of the past, right? Actually, they’re not. Surprisingly, these healers number in the tens of thousands just in Tanzania alone. Their “skills” range from spiritual healing to herbology. Some of the stuff some witch-doctors do borders on the dark and dangerous, but often the people that visit these tribal healers do not mind the potential dangers when it saves them an expense.

To get a better understanding of why the African witch doctor still dominates and thrives in Tanzania and other parts of Africa, you have to understand the differences between what they do and what Western medicine does. It is not so extreme in differences as it is grasping the reasons behind it. Still, knowing these differences may help you determine where to take your own medical career.

Deep Roots in Ancestral Practice

Consider this- the Cajuns of Louisiana have voodoo. Why does voodoo thrive? It exists predominantly in the African descendants of the region because this was their form of medicine and healing when their ancestors were brought to this country as slaves. The practice continues because people believe in it, and because it connects them to the past and their culture.

Likewise, the witch-doctors and what they do thrives because of its ancestral and cultural roots. Their ancestors learned how to use roots, berries, bark, herbs and other natural sources of healing centuries ago. The typical African witch doctor tends to live on the outskirts of most villages, acting as healers for the sick villagers. When the village is located too far from a big city where modern medicine dominates, the witch-doctors are the first choice for these people.

The Helpful vs. the Dangerous

While there is definitely something to be said for the herbology and helpful natural healing arts, there is a dark side to some witch-doctor practices too. Sacrifice of animals, removal of evil spirits by extinguishing a life for a life, and a few other not-so-nice ceremonies are practiced. Not every African witch doctor takes part in these darker ceremonies, of course, but it does reflect the more dangerous side of this type of “healing.” 

With modern medicine, there are some dangerous things too. For example, there is always some level of risk involved when a doctor wants to perform surgery or a PA writes a prescription for a medication. The risks are there, but the doctor or PA takes that risk in the hopes that it will benefit the patient more than hurt the patient. That is not always the case with an African Witch doctor.

Cost Is a Big Factor Too

Tanzanian villagers have very little money. They generally support themselves by growing food, gathering water, learning a trade to sell made goods, etc.. When a villager is ill, he or she visits the witch doctor, or babu (which means “grandfather”) to be cured. The cost for visiting the witch-doctor or babu is thousands of times cheaper than visiting a modern medical professional. The witch doctor/babu only requires something in trade, which may be a couple of chickens for food or items to decorate himself or his abode. To a poor villager, this is a high price as it is, but one that is more easily acquired than millions or even billions of Tanzanian shillings!

People who reside in the largest cities of Tanzania are just starting to accept modern medicine too. Some may still visit a witch doctor before they will visit a medical doctor or PA. This is the biggest reason why so many doctors and PAs join “Doctors Without Borders” in order to help these people and encourage them to seek modern medical care over the maybe yes/maybe no practices of the local witch doctor. For those that actually live and work in the larger cities, modern medical care is becoming standard for those with jobs.

Some of the Best Modern Medicines Come From Natural Healing

Long before modern medicine created drugs for various healing purposes, medicines came from plants. Many of these same medicines are in use today, from mint for an upset stomach to aspirin extracted from the bark of trees. Likewise, any witch doctor that are natural herbal healers are doing the same thing that modern medicine does; using natural herbs in pharmaceutically manufactured medicines to heal people. 

That is where this similarity ends, however. As a doctor or PA of modern medicine, you would be more inclined to use pharmaceuticals because these medicines have been curated and purified and made to be more effective once natural impurities have been removed. You can understand and learn about the sources of many medicines by studying them through your medical education at a qualified institution of higher learning, such as International Medical Aid Foundation. 

This particular foundation not only trains and educates medical professionals for their lifelong careers as doctors and PAs, but also grants them internships that give them a more global perspective. Like the African witch doctor in Tanzania, you would learn more by spending time serving your internship in another country where modern medicine is just starting to gain a foothold. You can learn a lot from the healers already present in another culture and another country while completing a medical internship that would lead to your PA licensing or doctorate. 


If you are interested in getting the most global experience you can out of your internship, contact International Medical Aid to ask about our internship programs, the application process, and what you can gain both personally and educationally from our organization.