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Traditional Healers and Western Medicine: The Challenge of Addressing Malaysia’s Cancer Burden through Collaboration

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Abstract Developing countries share a disproportionate burden of late-stage cancer presentation and cancer-related deaths. This burden is often a function of an inadequately resourced healthcare system along with easier access to and preference for traditional healers. In Malaysia, traditional healers are so embedded in the culture that they are often the first and sometimes only source of cancer information and treatment. The purpose of this qualitative study was to assess the willingness and the means by which Malay traditional healers and Western cancer specialists might work collaboratively in addressing the country’s cancer burden. Interviews were conducted in urban and rural areas of Peninsular Malaysia with 14 Malay traditional healers known for treating cancer and with 12 cancer specialists. Findings from traditional healers suggest that there is a range of receptiveness for working with the Western medical system, with Islamic healers being the most receptive. Medical doctors readily acknowledged the presence of traditional healers and their personal willingness to cooperate; however, cooperation was conditional depending on the nature of the healer’s practice, the timing of the healer’s intervention, and the instituting of government oversight/regulation. Suggestions for fostering interaction and implications for healthcare policy are discussed.

Affiliations: 1: University of Georgia and Universiti Putra Malaysia

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2012-01-01
2016-12-03

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