Original Research

Exploration of indigenous knowledge systems in relation to couching in Nigeria

Abubakar Tafida, Clare Gilbert
African Vision and Eye Health | Vol 75, No 1 | a332 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aveh.v75i1.332 | © 2016 Abubakar Tafida, Clare Gilbert | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 October 2015 | Published: 24 June 2016

About the author(s)

Abubakar Tafida, Department of Ophthalmology, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Nigeria
Clare Gilbert, Department of Clinical Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom

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Background: Couching is a traditional treatment for cataracts but often has poor visual outcomes, as identified during the Nigerian National Blindness Survey.

Objectives: To investigate why couching is accessed by individuals with cataracts in northern Nigeria.

Methods: The ten rural clusters in Jigawa State included in the National BlindnessSurvey were revisited to trace four groups of participants: cataract blind individuals, those couched or who had undergone cataract surgery and local couchers. Additional postoperative patients were recruited from the local eye department. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with cataract blind and cataract-operated participants, and 27 in-depth interviews were conducted with those couched and five couchers. Qualitative data were translated, transcribed and analysed after immersion and reflection using a thematic framework.

Results: Half of the cataract blind attributed the cause to spiritual factors or past misdeeds, only 25% knew they had cataracts and 83% had not undergone ophthalmic examination. Cost, distance and unreliability of services were the main barriers to accessing surgery. Facilitators of couching were the responsiveness of couchers in relation to location, timing and payment, and immediate visual improvement. Couchers understood local beliefs, were itinerant and used a network of case finders.

Conclusions: Couching is accepted as it is entrenched in traditional beliefs and indigenous knowledge systems, and couchers are responsive. Lack of awareness and inaccessibility were barriers to cataract surgery. Strategies to improve cataract surgery must take account of local beliefs and factors influencing health-seeking behaviour. Couchers were willing to collaborate with professional eye care providers, but this will require time, skill and mutual trust.

Keywords: couching




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doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2018-000846