Barbers and stylists as health educators


Is this a creative option for Ethiopia?

We trained few barbers about hypertension and how to measure blood pressure in our project to address hypertension in East Cleveland. Each barber shop was provided with an automated blood pressure measuring machine. Any of their customers would have free access to these blood pressure machines to voluntarily take their own blood pressure. They were also provided with an easy access to a health care provider for advice if the customer’s blood pressure was elevated.

The barbers were fascinated when we reviewed the history of barbers in delivering health care that dates back to at least 1163 in Europe when Pope Alexander III issued a decree that prohibited members of religious orders from spilling blood. Because of their dexterity with scissors and razors, barbers began working as physicians or surgeons. In addition to shaving and hair cutting, barbers began performing bloodletting, which was a common form of treatment for many ailments, incision and draining of abscesses, and toot extractions (1) among other surgical procedures.

Imagine going to a dental place in January of 1164 in London and having your tooth out following a nice hair cut!

Henry the VIII in 1554 merged the fellowship of the surgeons with the company of barbers to form The United Company of Barbers and Surgeons restricting each to their own profession except tooth extraction which was practiced by both groups. That lasted until 1745 when King George II separated the two groups and then surgeons formed the Company of Surgeons which later became the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800 ( 1).

There are several studies that used barber shops and beauty salons to reach out particularly to minority communities in the United States for blood pressure and other health screening educations with rewarding results (2,3).

Hypertension and its complications such as stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease are a major health burden throughout the world including sub-Saharan Africa where the prevalence is increasing. In a recent community based screening in Ethiopia (4) involving over 9000 people aged 15-69, the prevalence of elevated blood pressure was 15.8%.  Low income countries don’t have adequate resources to address this and other emerging chronic illness such as diabetes and heart disease.

There is often a unique and trusting relationship that exists between the customer and a stylist or barber. Barber shops and beauty salons are located in almost all major cities in Ethiopia and can be a means of reaching large numbers of individuals in screening for hypertension and other health issues.

Imagine sitting in a barber shop or hair stylist in Addis Ababa just before the upcoming Ethiopian New Year and having to check your own blood pressure while awaiting your turn!




  1. J Vasc Surg. 2018 Aug;68(2):646-649
  2. Am J Prev Med. 2014 Jul;47(1):77-85
  3. Arch Intern Med. 2011 Feb 28;171(4):342-50
  4. PLoS One. 2018 May 9;13(5):e0194819


About Tenayistilign

I am a physician trained at Jimma Institute of Health Sciences ( now Jimma University, in Jimma, Ethiopia) and Wayne State University ( Detroit, MI, USA). I teach and practice General Nephrology/Hypertension and Kidney Transplantation in the USA.
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