Now Zim's sick can get note from witch doctor

Harare, Zimbabwe - Witch doctors in Zimbabwe have been given the authority to issue their patients with sick notes allowing them time off work, it was reported on Wednesday.

A senior official in the ministry of health also said that conventional doctors should be allowed to refer problem cases to the nangas or traditional healers.

But the healers will not be allowed to give their patients more than a week off work, Deputy Health Minister Edwin Muguti was quoted as saying by the state-controlled Herald newspaper.

"It has become obvious that conventional medicines are not the be all of medicine for if they were, why else would we still have HIV, BP, asthma, all of which have no cure," Muguti said.

"It is important that we encourage our traditional medical practitioners and conventional doctors to work together for the benefit of our people," he said.

Rising medical costs have put conventional medical treatment out of the reach of many and increasing numbers of Zimbabweans are reported to be turning to nangas for help.

There has also been an upsurge in the number of faith healers, some of whom dangerously claim to cure HIV and Aids, which affects around one in five Zimbabweans.

There are at least 1 500 registered traditional healers in Zimbabwe, the Herald reports. Only those registered with the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council will be allowed to give patients off days, it added.

Zimbabwe, which is in the middle of a severe economic crisis, is critically short of qualified medical doctors and nursing staff, many of whom have left the country to practice abroad.

Traditional beliefs still hold a lot of sway in Zimbabwean society.

In July, President Robert Mugabe warned officials from his ruling Zanu-PF party not to consult witch doctors over the thorny issue of who will succeed him.

The president, who has been in power for 26 years, is expected to step down when his current term ends in 2008.