26 Apr 2021
Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine;
BACKGROUND: COVID-19 has caused worldwide fear and uncertainty. Historically, the biomedical disease paradigm established its dominance in tackling emerging infectious illnesses mainly due to innovation in medication and advances in technology. Traditional and religious remedies have emerged as plausible options for prevention and treatment of COVID-19, especially in Africa and Asia. The appeal of religious and traditional therapies against COVID-19 in the African setting must be understood within the historical, social, and political context. This study explored how women and community members dealt with suspected symptoms of COVID-19 in Mwanza, Tanzania. METHODS: This study was conducted in Nyamagana and Ilemela districts of Mwanza, Tanzania, between July and August 2020. We conducted 18 mobile phone in-depth interviews with a purposively selected sample of women aged 27-57 years participating in an existing longitudinal study. For safety reasons, smart mobile phones were used to collect the data. Each interview was audio recorded after obtaining verbal consent from the participants. The audio files were transferred to computers for analysis. Four researchers conducted a multistage, inductive analysis of the data. RESULTS: Participants reported wide use and perceived high efficacy of traditional remedies and prayer to prevent and treat suspected symptoms of COVID-19. Use was either alone or combined with public health recommendations such as hand washing and crowd avoidance. Despite acknowledging that a pathogen causes COVID-19, participants attested to the relevance and power of traditional herbal medication and prayer to curb COVID-19. Four main factors underline the symbolic efficacy of the traditional and religious treatment paradigms: personal, communal, and official reinforcement of their efficacy; connection to local knowledge and belief systems; the failure of biomedicine to offer a quick and effective solution; and availability. CONCLUSIONS: In the context of emerging contagious illnesses, communities turn to resilient and trusted treatment paradigms to quell fear and embrace hope. To tackle emerging infections effectively, it is essential to engage the broader sociopolitical landscape, including communal considerations of therapeutic efficacy.