Science clashes with cultural beliefs

The conflict between cultural beliefs and scientific facts is causing heartache and confusion in many mothers as they strive for the wellbeing of their children.

One area of conflict is the feeding of babies under six months old. Some mothers have been using natural remedies passed down from generation to generation. But medical doctors recently discovered side effects that can be caused by these natural remedies and recommended that mothers stop using medicines which are not laboratory tested. They advised mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding until the baby is six months old.

However, though most mothers have been trying to embrace scientific ideas, stigmatization in their community has become their biggest challenge.

Charity Mugoni (27) from Chirumanzu has experienced such stigmatisation as she tried to obey the recommendations of health experts. She said she has not yet introduced food supplements to her two-month-old baby and practices exclusive breast feeding. But she is worried about what people are saying behind her back.

“There is speculation in my neighborhood that I am HIV positive, because of the belief that has developed that only babies born from HIV positive mothers are exclusively breastfed until they turn six months,” she said. In a workshop to commemorate World Breast Feeding Week recently, Dr Brian Maguranyana advised journalists that young mothers were confused by mixed messages.

“There is great need to educate grandparents and influence them on exclusive correct feeding scheme for babies, because sometimes they are not aware of the damage they are causing to the wellbeing of their grandchildren through sociocultural remedies,” he said.

Amai Susan Mufari (56) from Chirumanzu, said: “Takashandisa mushonga yakasiyana siyana pavana vedu yechivanhu ichibatsira zvikuru, mazuvaano vanamukoti vave kukanganisa vana nekurambidza mushonga iyi ndikosaka vana vemazuvaano vachingorwararwara. (We used African natural remedies on our children and it was very helpful, but nowadays doctors and nurses forbid these remedies that is why this generation is highly affected by diseases.)”

Principal Director in the Ministry of Health, Dr Gibson Mhlanga, advised that some natural remedies were not good for babies’ soft intestines. “Nothing else but breast milk should be given to a baby under six months unless it is recommended by medical pediatrician,” he said.

It has been noted that sometimes natural remedies do work – although this varies from case to case. But medical doctors have discovered that sometimes traditional herbs have long term side-effects that most people are not aware of, and can also contribute to poor diet that can cause malnutrition as the remedy is not laboratory measured and tested.

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Post published in: News