Cape Town acupuncturists are on point with free treatment

The Flying Needle Project is Cape Town’s only free acupuncture clinic, offering treatment to all on a donation-based system since 2008. Founder Gidon Levenbach explains how, and why…

There are many public health acupuncture clinics in the United States dealing with drug detox, post-traumatic stress, fertility and pregnancy issues. And acupuncture is used quite a lot with chronic diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and cancer. I wanted to create a similar model and bring it here, to Cape Town.

I grew up in South Africa and when I was 13 my family emigrated to the United States. I studied acupuncture in Berkeley, California, in 1995 followed by a Masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Portland, Oregon. I then started volunteering at the Quan Yin Healing Arts Centre in San Francisco. I was working predominantly with HIV-positive patients and it was an incredible experience. The patients really felt like it was keeping them alive longer.

Acupuncture is an old form of medicine, and many people have embraced it: dry needling is used by physiotherapists and chiropractors now. A World Health Organisation list of approved trials have shown that it has been proven – scientifically and medically – to be effective for pain, at the least.

There are no side effects from it. If you’re well trained and know what to avoid, it’s incredibly safe. We use single-use, sterile needles every time, so there’s no chance of spreading infections.

Acupuncture is usually only provided to those who can afford it in South Africa, and at quite an expensive rate. I wanted to make acupuncture free because most of the people coming to our clinic can’t even afford to feed themselves.

Even when people are scared of the needles, they’re still brave enough to give it a shot and word has spread between communities. People realise that it’s not that painful; it’s way less painful than a syringe. And sometimes it’s not painful at all, depending on how you react and how sensitive you are.

I would like to see free acupuncture treatment sites set up all over southern Africa. I would like to see students studying acupuncture in South Africa coming to Flying Needle to intern, and international students coming here on training programmes to study HIV treatment and work with underprivileged communities.

In April 2015 we moved out from under our umbrella organisation at the Scalibri Centre to the nearby Carpenter’s Shop at 14 Roeland Street in the city centre, where we provide sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 09h30 to 14h30. We’d like to offer more treatment days, open more treatment sites and operate a mobile clinic in other communities, and so we are actively fundraising.

How you can help
Donate funds via the organisation’s website

Originally published in The Big Issue SA