When Medical Doctors Believe in Witchcraft

Published on 29th October 2012

Ghanaian medics at work                       Photo courtesy
Veteran Ghanaian journalist Elizabeth Ohene’s disclosure that in a survey, out of 45 Ghanaian medical students, 41 believe witchcraft is responsible for existential problems reveals the immense obstacles entangling the Ghanaian development process. For a medical doctor to believe that witchcraft is responsible for cancer, early deaths, TB, malaria or diabetes, then Ghana`s health foundation risky. This is because before the medical doctor starts examining a patient, the belief limits reasoning hence undermining the possibilities of advancement and tackling of complicated medical challenges.

Why does a student of medicine, trained like any other the world over, think that witchcraft is the cause of earthly problems? It is because the student was born in a culture that socializes people into believing in witchcraft and evil spirits for existential challenges. At the centre of the student’s brain is the simultaneous skirmish between irrationality and rationality largely fuelled by the Ghanaian/African culture. The irrational part of the students’ brains has outweighed their rational part, hence their strong belief, despite their long university education, that witchcraft is the cause of diseases and other challenges.

Dr. Mensah-Bonsu, an Ottawa, Canada based social policy consultant and a former chair of Ghana’s Peoples National Congress (PNC), one of the minority political parties, experienced first-hand how a medical doctor’s belief in witchcraft negatively affects the working environment. Dr. Mensah-Bonsu had gone to Ghana’s premier hospital, Korle Bu, in Accra, to visit a family member admitted there. In the course of his interaction, he overheard a middle aged medical doctor remarking sarcastically that if the patients have been bewitched by witches hence their ailments; they shouldn’t come to Korle Bu to disturb the doctors.

One cannot develop first class medical institutes if the main, supposedly highly trained people expected to think vastly are restricted by certain inhibitive cultural beliefs. If the modern Ghanaian medical doctor, after long years of training, cannot extricate himself/herself from unscientific, primitive beliefs and has receded into irrational beliefs, then Ghanaian medical schools should be redesigned by Britain’s J.K. Rowling of the witchcraft-themed Harry Potter fantasy. Here J.K. Rowling will create the equivalent of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as found in her hugely popular Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. To do this however would be to give more weight to forces of irrationality and take Ghana back to primitivity.

Can Ghanaian medical doctors extricate themselves from such an environment and help rationalise the inhibitive values that have entangled them? The dilemma is seen in Elizabeth Ohene’s The Rhodesian Syndrome. “The truth is, we live in three different centuries in this country, not just in terms of physical facilities. Those who live in the 21st Century try to simulate the 21st Century conditions for themselves and do not want the 20th, never mind the 19th Century conditions and people to stray into their horizons. Every once in a while, you can pretend that you live in a modern and progressive country, but mercifully you bump with reality all the time. It might be a radio programme about witches. In your century, with your iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs, people do not believe in the existence of witches. But try and listen in on a class of medical students at our leading medical school. Out of 45 students, 41 of them believe witches do exist.”

A Ghanaian-Canadian lady said, “How can that happen … I won’t go to a medical doctor who believes in witches … how can such a doctor treat patients fully with a mind drenched in belief in witches?”

The solution lies in more enlightenment in the development process, particularly teaching medical students the deadly implications of irrationally believing in witches as the cause of existential problems and using such mentality to treat sick patients.

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong
Ottawa, Canada.

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