It is a normal bright morning in Mandera County and Muslim faithful are in high spirits for Eid al Adha celebrations well known as the ‘Feast of Sacrifice’.
As always, the celebrations are marked by early morning prayers and a series of activities during the day including, of course, feasting.
But as preparations for the day slowly pick up, in Bella Village, Keyfa Dakane Noor, a five-year-old girl is seated inside the intestines of a slaughtered animal and covered with chyme. She is being ‘treated’ for a clinical condition the doctors suspect to be Hepatitis B.
Noor is undressed, submerged into the goat’s intestines and covered with chyme leaving only her head for breathing purposes. The procedure lasts for hours.
According to her parents, their daughter fell ill a few weeks earlier and they opted for traditional treatment methods, which they believe are more effective than conventional medicine.
Kuretha Adan, the girl’s grandmother said the procedure involves bathing the victim with animal warm blood and then covering them in fresh chyme before rinsing with warm water.
"As you can see, I have showered her with goat blood, wrapped her in the animal skin before rinsing her off with warm water and thoroughly smeared her with the content of the intestines. She’ll then be fed with the part of the cooked intestines," said Mrs Adan.
In this village, residents believe that most of the livestock products especially the blood, tripe, skin and urine are used for medicinal purposes.
Although medical practitioners dismiss these beliefs as mere myths, the community holds onto them on the grounds of cost-effectiveness and the belief that traditional medicine is more efficient than conventional medicine.
They say the traditional method has helped them to heal people whose ailments have failed to respond to conventional treatment even at the best healthcare facilities in Kenya and abroad.
Going to the hospital comes as a last resort for many, and is only deemed as an option when the trust in traditional medicine becomes futile.
For them, no amount of public information has changed their trust in the effectiveness of traditional medication procedures they’ve inherited from their forefathers.
Residing on the outskirts of Mandera town, the community argues that the cure for every disease one can think of is found with or in the livestock that surrounds them.
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They believe that the use of livestock intestines, skin, blood and tripe is the best treatment for notorious skin diseases, measles and Hepatitis B. According to them, fresh animal intestines treat on average 90 per cent of the world's skin and other health conditions.
Mrs Adan argues that while the blood treats chronic skin rashes, warm chyme (intestine contents) effectively treats septic wounds instantaneously and the skin removes stains within it.
She said the chyme even remedies conditions such as stunted growth and delayed milestones in children.
“We rarely take our children to the hospital for diseases that we can manage with our traditional approach. Some diseases such as hepatitis B, broken bones, measles and stunted growth for children can be treated with animal blood and intestines if the procedure and frequency are done properly by the traditional healers,” She observed.
She added, “When the person suffering from hepatitis conditions is wrapped with warm animal skin you wait until the part of the skin that is in contact with the patient gets pale green.”
She said the patient will feel better in the second procedure.
“If the patient was experiencing lack of sleep you will see them sleep well, get relieved from the fever, start eating well and have the colour of the eyes and skin normalize,” she explained.
And on the third procedure, Adan said, the patient gets healed completely without taking any conventional medicine.
Her sentiments are echoed by Mr Noor Maalim who said the community has been effectively using this tradition to treat various diseases.
He attributes the animal’s products medicinal value from the different vegetation and plants they feed on noting that on order of their product preference for medication tops camel, followed by goats and cows.
"I can attest of three children under my custody who had similar sickness to that of Keyfa who were treated under the same traditional procedure and got healed completely without requiring hospital services,” he said.
Maalim observed that if the first attempt of the procedure doesn’t deliver a result of healing the procedure is repeated until it takes effect. He, however, said that it’s rare for the procedure to get repeated for the third time without a positive result.
“For people with broken bones, the medication becomes effective immediately as the patient feels relieved and heals completely in two weeks,” he added.
According to him, when a stiff body part is dipped into fresh chyme the ‘dead’ nerves and veins come back to life and the joint or the body part starts becoming flexible as usual within two weeks.
Animal products are chosen because they feed on different trees with medicinal forms. The entire body is freshened with the trees' medicines.
The chyme contains all sorts of various tree syrups, hence its medicinal value.
Dr Nuh Derow, a skin specialist, however, said some contents used in the ritual treatments can cause more harm than good to someone suffering from hepatitis, or any other skin diseases.
"Hepatitis patients ought to avoid food and soup saturated with fats and proteins. The soup they give to the person after submerging them into the chyme is a fatty diet and will cause more harm than good," Derow said in an interview with The Standard.
The doctor who once went through the procedure, for what he can now interpret as measles while aged six, admits trust in the practice among the pastoralist community in Mandera is still high even though there is no scientific evidence to back their efficiency.
"I remember getting healed after my mother took me through the procedure, however, that doesn’t mean I got healed because of the procedure since the human body has a natural way of healing itself from most minor diseases," he said.
The doctor said people who test positive for acute Hepatitis B are usually treated through supportive care (rest, adequate nutrition, and fluids) to help relieve symptoms.
"Any other treatment is null and void for any diseases apart from the conventional established medication processes," said the doctor.
His sentiments are supported by Doctor Abdullahi, another medic at Mandera County Referral Hospital, who said contents in the animal intestines contain different things which can be dangerous if they get in contact with the human body.
Abdullahi added that there is no better alternative to conventional medication.