Doctors Go Green ..As Natural Medicine set base

As 16 year olds, Penehafo Haitamba and Petrina Auino used to share a dream of a future in medicine. Studying medicine is a dream shared by any 16-year old in Windhoek’s top high schools, but fast forward to ten years later, the two have lived their dream to own Nature’s Way, an up market natural medicine shop in the heart of Windhoek.

Dr. Petrina Auino and Dr. Penehafo Haitamba-Shindume are now breaking new grounds, pioneering the advancement of natural medicine in Namibia.

They both graduated as Naturopaths at the University of Western Cape (UWC) in South Africa last year and came home after the five-year course to set-up Natures’ Way, arguably the most visible testament of natural medicine in Windhoek so far.

“When we came home, we took our qualifications to the Ministry of Health, to show them that we are Namibians qualified in this unique profession, but we were not welcomed with such verve. The people at the Ministry did not seem to understand our position in the health system. Such is what we have braced ourselves to face in the field,” recall the two doctors, both 26.

Nature’s Way opened its doors for the first time in April 2010. It was born from a Business Plan that the two doctors, then students, drew up at UWC during an Entrepreneurship and Business Management course they were attending.

“When we began studying Natural Medicine, we were constantly haunted by the fact that it would be difficult to get a job or at least work anywhere in Africa, particularly Namibia, in this field of Naturopathic Medicine,” says Dr. Auino.

“We then decided to attend an Entrepreneurship course so that we could come home and start our own business as doctors of natural medicine. All the students were asked to draw up a business plan, as the final test to this Entrepreneurship course. Our Business Plan was voted the best and won an award that later motivated us to come home and put into practice what we had projected in that business plan. There was no guarantee we could practice what we trained for anywhere else unless we did it ourselves,” she says.

Naturopathy, or Naturopathic Medicine, is a distinct, integrated system of primary health care which consists of the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of human disorders by the therapeutic use of natural methods and materials. These might include Clinical Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Nutritional Supplementation Homeopathy, Naturopathic Manipulation, or ancient medical systems like those of China or India.

“Many people are confused and even ask if we are traditional doctors,” says Haitamba-Shindume, “But it is not their fault, when people hear the word natural medicine, all they think of is traditional healers but we are trained doctors. We each got two degrees, one after a three year course in medical sciences like any other would-be doctor, before we specialised in getting a degree in Natural Medicine for two more years. We are not traditional healers, we are trained doctors in natural medicine,” she emphasises.

There are less than five naturopaths in Namibia and the two are now among the first to offer distinctive consultancy in natural medicine.

They were friends in high school. Auino was at Delta High School and Shindume at the Roman Catholic High School also known as Dobra

Their friendship dates back to 2000 when they were both in grade 10. Auino through her mother, got a holiday job where she would go to work as a ‘tea lady’ for a naturopathic doctor, Dr. Isabel Reis, during school breaks.

“I would go to dust the walls and remove spider webs in rooms where Dr. Reis would be treating her patients. Often would hear what was being said and we would discuss with my friends particularly Penehafo (Shindume) once I return from work. I was just 16,” she says scornfully.

Shindume cuts in: “It sounded interesting whenever she explained to me, and already I wanted to be doctor but had a huge fear of blood. That’s when I figured that I could be a doctor without touching people’s blood like Dr. Reis. Most girls want to be doctors but the thought of touching people’s blood puts them off.”

By the time the two finished grade 12, they had already set their minds on what they would want to do in life... a doctor.

Auino was asked by Dr. Reis to work for her at a newly opened branch in Angola, she obliged while Shindume, then Haitamba got a place at the UWC as a Dentistry student.
But she was delayed in getting to the campus and found her position already filled.

“One of the officials asked me to do a bridge program for the year so that I would change to Dentistry the following year, when I went to apply for the bridge program I found out that UWC was going to be introducing Natural Medicine, the following year.”

No sooner had she decided to wait for the new Natural Medicine program than she contacted Auino’s parents in Namibia to let her know that a Natural Medicine program was being introduced and she needed to be part of the new recruits.

“My mom applied for me and I got admitted, while I was in Angola. We started together in 2004,” says Dr. Auino. Still the major uncertainty throughout the course was the unavailability of jobs for natural medicine.

“We knew by the time we were in our second year that we would practise together after graduation,” Auino says.
And that Business Plan Award motivated their cause.

“Most people think medicine and business are two separate things, we are doctors and at the same time businesspeople,” says Auino, as she poses in a shop full of natural medicine, massage parlours and therapy rooms, right in the heart of Windhoek, along the Post Street Mall Plaza.

When they graduated in 2009, the duo faced the usual financial problems, and while still working on modifying their Business Plan, both found jobs at two different Chiropractors ‘s private practices where they worked “to get some experiences and small income to start our own.”

Less than 12 months after graduation, Nature’s Way was born and has attracted a lot of professionals in Namibia.

“Living things have innate ability to heal themselves, our job promotes self-cleansing, self-repair and therefore self-healing. This process is mainly achieved by focusing on the immune, hormonal, nervous, detoxification and elimination systems of the body. Once these are in balance, restored health is a probability,” Auino notes.

Shindume adds that Naturopathic doctors treat their patients holistically, taking into consideration the individual’s biochemistry, biomechanics, and emotional predispositions.

“The body’s self-healing ability can be better understood if one takes into account the fact that biological balance is the main characteristic of any healthy system. If you come to us, we don’t look at your symptoms, we seek to understand the condition by looking at the patient’s history and underlying root cause of that particular disease”

She gives an example of a fever.

“When the body is invaded by a pathogen (a substance capable of producing illness), the body will usually respond by producing a fever to fight the invader. If the body is properly supported through nutrition and rest, the fever will turn up the immune system and permit the recovery of health.”

Both professionals admit that there is no panacea that is why each person seeking help from a Naturopathic doctor will receive an individualised treatment protocol.

“For a first time patient at Naturopathy, one consultation can last up to 90minutes,” says a recently married Haitamba-Shindume.

Naturopathic medicine is practiced either as a primary system of medical care, or as a complementary adjunct to conventional medical treatment.

Currently the duo offer free consultations, and make their income from selling the natural medicine.

They are yet to start practising as they await their license from the Ministry of Health, but the business has been blossoming.

They say most white people who walk into their health shop are amazed at the types of natural medicine they offer and seem more knowledgeable in the medicine.

The World Health Organization has encouraged programs in herbal medicine, especially in developing countries, as a means of providing affordable primary health care and of creating agricultural markets for those economies. Herbs are characterized by their low toxicity and lack of accumulation in the body. When selected appropriately, botanical medicines offer powerful, safe, and effective approach to healing, with few side effects.

“We have a number of blacks who also come in seeking medicine but we don’t just offer medicines, we first offer consultancy. The biggest glitch has been that most of the people ask whether we accept Medical Aid services, which we unfortunately do not at the moment because of the licence we are waiting for.

But we see more people opening up to us when this Medical Aid issue is cleared. A Practise number will help us get more clients. People don’t understand their conditions, they just say, the doctor said, yet they want different ways of healing.”

The most prominent ailments they have treated or attended to so far have been patients of gout, arthritis, allergies, reproductive health issues, back problems, high cholesterol, Blood Pressure and stress related issues such as stiff necks.

Their goal as Naturopathic Doctors is to develop optimal wellness for each patient, and to teach the principles of ideal health, although they maintain, prevention is the ultimate goal.

The fact that the Namibian government has started using Chinese Medicine Doctors at hospitals is motivating Auino and Shindume.

“One thing that brought us to work together has been the realisation that we could have been two little voices if we had worked solo, not one bigger voice. We need each other; we could not have survived if we had worked separately. We have seen how difficult it has been for other professionals in our field to break the barrier.

We are now glad the government has embraced Chinese traditional medicine, so it will not be difficult to recognise us,” says Shindume.

She narrates how difficult it was for them to get registration with the Allied Health Professional Council (AHPC), for their profession to get recognition in the country.

What worries them is the fact that there are so many natural herbs in the streets, and being sold by non-professionals.

“People are selling herbal products without knowledge; we have been trained for this. Herbs are only safe if applied with knowledge. We get our medicines through licensed dealers in South Africa and by the time we start practising, the whole country will know that we are here to stay. And besides, everyone is going green in this age, Australia already has naturopaths in their hospitals, the whole world will soon follow suit. So we are bringing green to your door step,” Dr. Auino who still stays with her parents, says.

They both give credits to their families and relatives for standing by them and helping them start the business, getting deeper with the professions.

“There were times when our families would be mocked by people asking why ‘their children went to study medicine but are not in hospital?’ Even when we started the business, our families were supportive financially and in many other forms of support,” adds Auino.

Both do not rule out the possibility of practising in State Hospitals soon and do not place themselves at odds with the mainstream General Practitioners.

“We compliment mainstream medicine. Natural Medicine does not have any dangerous negative adverse effects, it has been noted. What we are now doing is giving birth to what we have carried since the age of 16. We know our place in the health system,” they say.PF