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  • Traditional African medicine

    Traditional African medicine


    • Traditional African medicine is an alternative medicine discipline involving indigenous herbalism and African spirituality, typically involving diviners, midwives, and herbalists. Practitioners of traditional African medicine claim to be able to cure various and diverse conditions such as cancers, psychiatric disorders, high blood pressure, cholera, most venereal diseases, epilepsy, asthma, eczema, fever, anxiety, depression, benign prostatic hyperplasia, urinary tract infections, gout, and healing of wounds and burns and even Ebola.

      Diagnosis is reached through spiritual means and a treatment is prescribed, usually consisting of a herbal remedy that is considered to have not only healing abilities but also symbolic and spiritual significance. Traditional African medicine, with its belief that illness is not derived from chance occurrences, but through spiritual or social imbalance, differs greatly from modern scientific medicine, which is technically and analytically based. In the 21st century, modern pharmaceuticals and medical procedures remain inaccessible to large numbers of African people due to their relatively high cost and concentration of health facilities in urban centres.

      Before the establishment of science-based medicine, traditional medicine was the dominant medical system for millions of people in Africa but the arrival of the Europeans was a noticeable turning point in the history of this ancient tradition and culture. Herbal medicines in Africa are generally not adequately researched, and are weakly regulated. There is a lack of the detailed documentation of the traditional knowledge, which is generally transferred orally. Serious adverse effects can result from misidentification or misuse of healing plants.

      Science has, in the past, considered methods of traditional knowledge as primitive and backward. Under colonial rule, traditional diviner-healers were outlawed because they were considered by many nations to be practitioners of witchcraft and magic, and declared illegal by the colonial authorities, creating a war against aspects of the indigenous culture that were seen as witchcraft. During this time, attempts were also made to control the sale of herbal medicines. After Mozambique obtained independence in 1975, attempts to control traditional medicine went as far as sending diviner-healers to re-education camps. As colonialism and Christianity spread through Africa, colonialists built general hospitals and Christian missionaries built private ones, with the hopes of making headway against widespread diseases. Little was done to investigate the legitimacy of these practices, as many foreigners believed that the native medical practices were pagan and superstitious and could only be suitably fixed by inheriting Western methods according to Onwuanibe. During times of conflict, opposition has been particularly vehement as people are more likely to call on the supernatural realm. Consequently, doctors and health practitioners have, in most cases, continued to shun traditional practitioners despite their contribution to meeting the basic health needs of the population.


      Plant Description
      Amaranthus dubius a flowering plant, also known as spleen amaranth
      Amaranthus hybridus commonly known as smooth pig-weed or slim amaranth
      Amaranthus spinosus also known as spiny amaranth
      Asystasia gangetica an ornamental, ground cover known as Chinese violet. Also used in Nigerian folk medicine for the management of asthma.
      Centella asiatica a small herbaceous annual plant commonly referred to as Asiatic pennywort
      Ceratotheca triloba a tall annual plant that flowers in summer sometimes referred to as poppy sue
      Chenopodium album also called lamb's quarters, this is a weedy annual plant
      Emex australis commonly known as southern three corner jack
      Galinsoga parviflora commonly referred to as gallant soldier
      Justicia flava also known as yellow justicia and taken for coughs and treatment of fevers
      Momordica balsamina an African herbal traditional medicine also known as the balsam apple
      Oxygonum sinuatum an invasive weed with no common name
      Physalis viscosa known as starhair ground cherry
      Senna occidentalis a very leafy tropical shrub whose seeds have been used in coffee; called septic weed
      Solanum nodiflorum also known as white nightshade
      Tulbaghia violacea a bulbous plant with hairless leaves often referred to as society or wild garlic
      Country Doctor:Patient TMP:Patient References
      Botswana TMPs estimated at 2,000 in 1990 Moitsidi, 1993
      Eritrea Medical doctors estimated at 120 in 1995 Government of Eritrea, 1995
      Ethiopia 1:33,000 World Bank, 1993
      Kenya 1:7,142 (overall) 1:987 (Urban-Mathare) World Bank, 1993
      1:833 (Urban-Mathare) 1:378 (Rural-Kilungu) Good. 1987
      Lesotho Licensed TMPs estimated at 8,579 in 1991 Scott et al. 1996
      Madagascar 1:8,333 World Bank, 1993
      Malawi 1:50,000 1:138 Msonthi and Seyani, 1986
      Mozambique 1:50,000 1:200 Green et al. 1994
      Namibia 1:1,000 (Katutura)

      1:500 (Cuvelai) 1:300(Caprivi)

      Lumpkin, 1994
      Somalia 1:14,285 (Overall)

      1:2,149 (Mogadishu)

      1:54,213 (Central region)

      1:216,539 (Sanag)

      World Bank, 1993; Elmi et al. 1983
      South Africa 1:1,639 (Overall)

      1:17,400 (Homeland areas)

      1:700-1,200 (Venda) World Bank, 1993 (Venda and Overall), Savage, 1985* Arnold and Gulumian, 1987* (Homeland areas)
      Sudan 1:11,000 World Bank, 1993
      Swaziland 1:10,000  !:100 Green, 1985; Hoff and Maseko, 1986
      Tanzania 1:33,000 1:350-450 in DSM World Bank, 1993; Swantz, 1984
      Uganda 1:25,000 1:708 World Bank, 1993; Amai, 1997
      Zambia 1:11,000 World Bank, 1993
      Zimbabwe 1:6,250 1:234 (urban)

      1:956(rural)

      World Bank, 1993; Gelfand et al. 1985

      • Pygeum (Prunus africana): Pygeum is not only used in traditional African medicine, but has developed a following around the world, as a cure for mild-to-moderate benign prostatic hyperplasia, claimed by its users to increase the ease of urination and reduce inflammation and cholesterol deposits. In traditional African practice, the bark is made into tea, whereas elsewhere in the world it is found in powders, tinctures, and pills. Pygeum has been sold in Europe since the 1970s and is harvested in mass quantities in Cameroon and Madagascar each year.
      • Securidaca longipedunculata: This is a tropical plant found almost everywhere across the continent with different uses in every part of Africa. In Tanzania, the dried bark and root are used as a laxative for nervous system disorders, with one cup of the mixture being taken daily for two weeks. In East Africa, dried leaves from the plant are used in the treatment of wounds and sores, coughs, venereal diseases, and snakebites. In Malawi, the leaves are also used for wounds, coughs, venereal diseases, and snakebites, as well as bilharzia, and the dried leaves are used to cure headaches. In other parts of the continent, parts of the plant are used to cure skin diseases, malaria, impotence, epilepsy, and are also used as an aphrodisiac.
      • Onwuanibe, Richard C (1979). "The Philosophy of African Medical Practice". A Journal of Opinion. African Studies Association. 9 (3): 25–28. JSTOR 1166259. 
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