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World Bank, Washington, DC
2012-08-13T13:10:12Z | 2012-08-13T13:10:12Z | 2001-05

The traditional healers are a source of health care for which Africans have always paid. Even with the expansion of modern medicine, healers are still popular and command fees exceeding the average treatment cost at most modern practitioners. Are traditional healers miracle workers or are they charlatans? Clearly either view is too extreme. Traditional healers are not perfect. Nor, however, can they be charlatans. This article advances a view of traditional healers that relies on neither supernatural power nor manifest ignorance. It suggests that healers remain popular despite abundant modern medicine because they have wisely used an important economic contract to the mutual benefit of their practice and the population they serve. While the contrasts between traditional medicine and modern medicine are many, the article focuses on the differences in the way traditional and modern healers are paid. An important element of their practice has been previously ignored: traditional healers receive the bulk of their payment only if the patient is cured.


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