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Phytother Res. 2005 Nov;19(11):919-23.

Medical provision in Africa -- past and present.

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Department of Phytochemistry, University of Ghana, P.O. Box LG25, Legon, Accra, Ghana.


The use of medicinal plants and animal-derived remedies for treating illness by Africans goes back many years. Traditionally, rural African communities have relied mainly on the invaluable spiritual and practical skills of traditional medicine practitioners (TMPs) for their healthcare. Today's society has differing views about sickness, but to the traditional African, sickness is understood as a complex interaction of physical, physiological, psychosocial and spiritual factors. Thus, in contrast to Western medicine, which is based on the biomedical model, traditional African medicine takes a holistic approach: disease, good health, success or failure, are believed to be the products of the actions of individuals and ancestral spirits according to the balance or imbalance between the individual and the social environment. TMPs seek to bring about a link of the person, with the society and the ancestors. The reasons for the continued dependence of Africans on traditional medicine range from their belief systems to the relatively high cost and limited access to Western medicine. This paper therefore provides an overview of traditional African medicine with a view to highlighting its many great benefits vis-à-vis the drawbacks of orthodox medicine. The reasons for the rise in interest in herbal medicine on the continent are explained briefly and the need for stricter regulatory controls of the herbal industry, advocated.

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