Kennedy Lukanda from Kipsombe in Uasin Gishu County, had a daughter who suffered frequent coughing and no medication in hospital cured the condition leading to frequent absentia from school over persistent cough and high fever.
But when traditional herbalist recommended cutting her uvula (small tongue), the persistent coughs stopped.
Uvula is the bell shaped part at the back of the throat responsible for the gag reflex in closing the air passage and thus prevents food or drink going the wrong way. Like through the nose leading to chocking.
Cutting is commonly performed on small children though a person can live without the uvula.
“When she was cut, she used to eat food with traditional salt- “munyu”, and within a week she was okay,” Lukanda explains.
Abdi Situma, a traditional healer in Chemororoch Village in Soy Sub-County, Uasin Gishu has been performing uvulectomy for five years and charges Sh1,000 whether the patient is young or elderly.
“Most patients come with coughing problems but once the uvula is cut, they get well,” says Situma adding that he doesn’t touch darkened or very long uvulas.
“I refer such cases to hospitals to avoid complications,” says Situma who uses and a hook-like tool to pull out the cut part to avoid choking. He then applies black soot on the wound.
Though doctors maintain that uvulectomy has no known scientific benefits, many communities continue with the practice as cure for frequent coughs or flu, or when the uvula appears longer and swollen.
Dr Myra Koech, a pediatric cardiologist, says the uvula is key in fighting throat infections and should not be cut.
“When the uvula is inflamed, it means it’s fighting a throat infection. When you cut it, there will be no mechanism to fight those infections. The uvula grows smaller with age. At age seven, going up, it starts shrinking, “she explains.
Inflammation of the uvula also known as uvilitis, is caused by a response to injury, allergic reaction, infection, or illness most common being the strep throat bacterial infection.
Dr Myra insists on treating the root cause of the infections rather than cutting it out.
Dr Makaya Denge, an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist says cutting the uvula has no scientific backing but “it can be trimmed when swollen due to viral infections, an injury or allergies to an extent that it obstructs normal breathing.”
Dr Makaya adds that the uvula’s main function is to close the nasal cavity and help push food toward the throat.
Doctor David Githinga, a pediatrician, argues that traditional uvulectomy has been passed down generations without any explanation on its importance and compares it to Female Genital Mutilation which has no significance in a woman’s body.
Some traditional practitioners sometimes also use unsterilised tools risking infections while others reuse them on different clients exposing them to infections like HIV.