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Med Law. 1990;9(1):685-99.

The integration of traditional medicine into the Nigerian health care delivery system: legal implications and complications.


At the outset the author stresses the distinction between 'alternative' and traditional medicine, the latter being indigenous to a country. Government recognition of traditional medicine is discussed and its relationship to the law of the land explored. Possible models for the integration of western and traditional medicine are examined, as well as the difficulties likely to arise. The conclusion is that such integration would be unconstitutional.


The existing relationship between the law and traditional medicine and legal consequences of the incorporation of traditional medicine into the national health care system is examined. Traditional doctors have been alleged to have cured cancer and they claimed to have treated AIDS before it was officially recognized. Traditional medicine is not synonymous with alternative medicine which consists of acupuncture, homeopathy, and faith healing (pseudo-Christianity). The practitioners of traditional medicine believe that diseases are caused by supernatural forces, the displeasure of ancestral gods, evil spirits, black magic, or spirit possession. Practitioners in Zimbabwe as in Nigeria include spirit mediums, diviners, herbalists, midwives, and faith healers. Occultism is an essential part of traditional medicine just like witchcraft and wizardry. The Lagos State Government enacted a Traditional Medicine Board Law in 1980 allowing the practice legally. However, treatment of patients is at own risk, as gross negligence can be considered a crime by a qualified doctor and compensation alone is not sufficient. The endangerment of the lives of citizens by untrained quacks is impermissible, thus standards of skill are enforced, as evidenced by manslaughter charges against a native herbalist performing an operation without the requisite skills. Dispensation of prescription drugs by a traditional healer can also lead to prosecution (e.g., bismuth injections causing toxemia). Tort suits can also be filed by the aggrieved party, and assault and battery charges can be initiated. Customary rules of contract apply to treatment, and a licensed medical practitioner can perform an autopsy on a deceased person. Although it is conceivable that traditional healers can work together with medical practitioners, conflict may arise from the religious nature of this craft. Official sanctioning of traditional medicine is opposed, although research on traditional preparations is recommended.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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