Open Access Research article

Traditional healers and the potential for collaboration with the national tuberculosis programme in Vanuatu: results from a mixed methods study

Kerri Viney12*, Penelope Johnson3, Markleen Tagaro4, Saen Fanai4, Nguyen N Linh5, Paul Kelly6, David Harley2 and Adrian Sleigh2

Author Affiliations

1 Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Public Health Division, BP D5, Noumea Cedex 98848, New Caledonia

2 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Building 62, Corner of Eggleston and Mills Roads, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

3 School of Culture, History and Language (RSPAS), College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia

4 Ministry of Health, PB 9009, Port Vila, Vanuatu

5 Global TB Programme, World Health Organization; formerly from The Division of Pacific Technical Support, World Health Organization Representative Office in the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji

6 Population Health Division, ACT Health, ACT Government, GPO Box 825, Canberra City ACT 2601, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2014, 14:393  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-393

Published: 23 April 2014



This study was conducted in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. Our objective was to assess knowledge, attitudes and practice of traditional healers who treat lung diseases and tuberculosis (TB), including their willingness to collaborate with the national TB programme.


This was a descriptive study using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Quantitative analysis was based on the responses provided to closed-ended questions, and we used descriptive analysis (frequencies) to describe the knowledge, attitudes and practice of the traditional healers towards TB. Qualitative analysis was based on open-ended questions permitting fuller explanations. We used thematic analysis and developed a posteriori inductive categories to draw original and unbiased conclusions.


Nineteen traditional healers were interviewed; 18 were male. Fifteen of the healers reported treating short wind (a local term to describe lung, chest or breathing illnesses) which they attributed to food, alcohol, smoking or pollution from contact with menstrual blood, and a range of other physical and spiritual causes. Ten said that they would treat TB with leaf medicine. Four traditional healers said that they would not treat TB. Twelve of the healers had referred someone to a hospital for a strong wet-cough and just over half of the healers (9) reported a previous collaboration with the Government health care system. Eighteen of the traditional healers would be willing to collaborate with the national TB programme, with or without compensation.


Traditional healers in Vanuatu treat lung diseases including TB. Many have previously collaborated with the Government funded health care system, and almost all of them indicated a willingness to collaborate with the national TB programme. The engagement of traditional healers in TB management should be considered, using an evidence based and culturally sensitive approach.

Tuberculosis; Pacific; Traditional healers; Health care