Traditional healers are often the first line of care in Zambia, helping to fill the gaps in a public health system suffering chronic drug shortages and a lack of skilled staff.
Mulenga Chola, a traditional healer operating from a makeshift shack in a sprawling shanty compound in the capital, Lusaka, says he can treat people afflicted by poverty, marital problems and demon possession. He uses the pseudonym "Dr Muzinga", meaning "one who resolves complicated problems".
"I was born in 1962, but my calling to become a traditional healer came in 1978 after a prolonged sickness. My parents neglected me, they didn't take me to school, I was working on the farm all the time. I started suffering a lot - blood was continuously coming out of my nose, I had prolonged headaches.
"Then one day we met a traditional healer. He told us that my grandfather had initiated me in the business because my parents didn't take good care of me. My grandfather was a diviner. That is how I started using his spirits. They give me direction on which medicines to use, and even where to find them.
"[The] money is not that much in this business, but it's okay; I've been surviving. On a good day, all my clients pay. When people are paying and there is business, I can make up to K700,000 [about US$200] in one day.
"People of all classes come here. They bring various problems. Most of them have marital problems. Our government is not doing anything about the marriages of our people. They [clients] ask me to help them to bring back their [runaway] husbands and wives.
"Others come here with [suspected] HIV, but they are just tormented by demons. In Zambia, it's like there are a lot of people with HIV, but this is not true.
|Facts and figures|
|• Zambia has 40,000 registered herbalists, diviners, spiritualists and traditional birth attendants|
|• About 15 percent of 11.7 million population is HIV positive, though only about 150,000 are currently accessing antiretroviral treatment|
|• Zambia' doctor-to-patient ratio is about 1 to 13,000. In the UK, a preferred desination for most Zambian health workers, it is 1 to about 650|
|• Zambia was among the first countries to commission clinical trials of herbal remedies claimed to cure AIDS. The trials dispelled the cure claims, but acknowledged the herbalists were able to treat opportunistic infections|
"It's because most of our people don't respect traditions, especially if a husband or wife dies; they disregard [sexual] cleansing. They like to move on without getting rid of the spirits of their [departed] husbands and wives.
"We treat many people who look like they have HIV and yet they don't have it. But if it's genuine HIV, we refer them to the clinic or hospital.
"Many people are demon possessed, they have poor health. Some of them need riches or good luck, we help them. Some of them come to look for a job, they are educated, very educated. We help them to find a job.
"We treat epilepsy and fits, we treat madness; I am a specialist in those. Even diseases that are complicated - like if someone is bewitched, or is demon possessed.
"The problem with this generation is that people frown upon herbalists and diviners - they go to the hospital for every disease. They don't know [the] diseases to take to the hospital. Our elders knew what to take to the hospital.
"But now, someone is bewitched, he goes to the hospital, someone is mad, they take him to the hospital. I treat all those."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions