Government is still sleeping on the issue of people with albinism (Pwa). It urgently needs to wake up from its slumber and weigh in to stop once and for all the merciless killings of Pwa.
So far, as many as 17 Pwa have been murdered across the country since January last year.
This is far too many. As a matter of fact, not even one person should have been killed. There have also been 66 reported cases of abductions of Pwa and numerous reports of exhumations of graves of Pwa.
Government’s response to these heinous acts has been, to say the least, lukewarm. All that government has been saying is that it is doing all it can to ensure their safety. Government has been long on rhetoric and short on action. All the while Pwa are being murdered with no hope that things will change for the better.
Needless to say, they are living in fear. The majority of them have stopped being productive citizens of the country. Those who are breadwinners for their families can no longer fend for them anymore while school children have stopped attending school as they have no assurance about their safety.
Shamefully, the only punitive measure against the murderers and abductors of Pwa has come from the courts. If my memory serves me right, one or two people have been sentenced to a maximum of 27 years imprisonment with hard labour.
This week, some concerned Malawians moved the courts to ban traditional healers, witchdoctors, charm producers, distributors, fortune tellers to stop operating in the country. These are people whose businesses are believed to be fuelling the murders of Pwa. Hail Osward Phiri, Evans Mponda and Mary Nyirenda for the action, albeit, for seven days only.
The court has also banned all media houses from running advertisement services of witchdoctors in an attempt to stop the killing of Pwa. This is commendable.
But this is not enough. Government—including the executive and legislature—needs to weigh in, and in a very strong way. There is need for some policy framework supported by legal instruments that could be promulgated to protect Pwa because the existing legal tools have been found to be wanting.
But it is a foregone conclusion that the herbalists and witchdoctors, charm producers, sellers or distributors, fortune tellers and magic users, will not take the ban lying on their backs. The ban is a slap on their very means of livelihood. For the 100 000 or so herbalists dispensing herbal drugs is the only thing that puts bread on their tables.
After all, the three Mzuzu-based residents have been asked to file for an inter partes summons for the ban to be effective until seven days.
Which means the traditional healers can overturn the decision in the same courts. Meaning that seven days from last Wednesday we might be back to square one and the murderers of Pwa will be back in town and at every corner of the street doing what they know best and with a vengeance.
Government should borrow a leaf from the Tanzanian government which last year launched a crackdown on rogue traditional healers and herbalists after reports that some of them were operating without being licensed with the Alternative Health Practitioners Council of Tanzania (AHPCT). But Malawi’s equivalent—the Traditional Healers Association (THA)—leaves a lot to be desired in terms of offering high quality, equitable accessible, affordable and sustainable services to people. They are, to be fair, suspect and those who seek THA services do so at their own risk.
The court ban should, however, act as a wake-up call on government to regulate THA services along the lines of the AHPCT. Government should also create a more efficient and trusted health system, by among other things, ridding it of drug pilferage so that most patients’ problems can be solved at modern health facilities.
Going forward, banning THA completely may not be a fair solution as 80 percent of the world population makes use of herbal medicines. What government needs to do is to work closely with THA and that all those who wish to practice as herbalists and traditional healers should be registered with THA. THA should also up its act.