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Seeking Biomedical and Traditional Treatment is a Spiritual Lapse Among Zionists: A Case Study of the Zion Church in Malawi


The Enabling Universal and Equitable Access to Healthcare for Vulnerable People in Resource Poor Settings in Africa (Equitable) Project was conducted in Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, and the Sudan between 2009 and 2012. It was aimed at determining the challenges which vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, experience when accessing health care. It also aimed at identifying non-users of health services at the community level and reasons why they were not accessing these services. The study found that members of the Zion Church do not seek treatment from public or private health facilities, or from traditional healers. Not much has been written about how members of the Zion Church in Malawi seek health care. This paper explores how members of the Zion Church seek health care during illness episodes. The study was conducted in four districts in Malawi. A total of twenty-five members and non-members of this church were interviewed to determine how they sought health care. The study found that members of the Zion Church do not use Western medicine: the church does not allow them to seek treatment either from Western health facilities or traditional healers, otherwise they risk excommunication. Senior members of the church pray for the sick, and patients also seek treatment from the Zion Church clinic, where prayers, blessed water, and amulets are used in the treatment of diseases. Non-members who seek treatment from the Zion Church Clinic are advised to first seek treatment from traditional healers and health facilities. The Zion Church clinic should be the last resort for these non-member patients, most of whom have been sick for a long time. After being cured, some of the non-members have been converted and joined the church. Our conclusion is that while medical pluralism exists in Malawian communities, members of the Zion Church only access treatment from their church elders and church clinics. They do not use Western medicine.

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