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J R Soc Health. 1993 Aug;113(4):190-4.

Exploration of the frontiers of tradomedical practices: basis for development of alternative medical healthcare services in developing countries.

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Rivers State College of Education, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.


The study is a brief exploration of the functions and roles of the traditional healers in the total health care delivery system as a basis for tapping the salient features of this age old art: for the purpose of refining, and establishing it as an alternative medical health-care service. The investigation is considered relevant particularly in the developing countries where, in addition to the dearth of orthodox medical services, institutions and personnel, it is relatively cheaper, socio-culturally accessible and acceptable. Refining and developing some aspects of the traditional healers' services will serve the interest of the health consumers whose main concern is with service and not the source. Furthermore, it is hoped that the study will stimulate purposeful discussions on the need for an unbiased examination of the materials, methods and techniques of the traditional healers including, eventually, compiling a native pharmacopoeia. A more comprehensive account of the traditional healers contributions to the battle against diseases and maintenance of health and well being is envisaged.


In traditional healing, practitioners use barks, leaves, nuts, fruit juices and roots, and parts of domestic animals. They practice their craft mostly in Africa, Asia, and other Third World countries, and they are variously called juju priests, diviners, herbalists, and witch doctors. Cases of achievements in their contributions to preventive and curative health have been documented. In Nigeria, clients regularly patronize both orthodox and traditional medical practitioners. Their remedies include healing the bite of the very poisonous carpet viper, chronic bronchitis, peptic ulcer, and heart problems, as well as performing uvulectomy and tonsillectomy. Quinine, the cure for malaria, was originally the ritual medicine of the Incas of Peru. It was confirmed that Azadirachta Indica (Meliaceae), the neem tree, used against malaria in Nigeria, India, and Asia, had a potent antiplasmodial activity. The plant Streblus asper, Linn (Shakhotoha Siora) is well known in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat fever, filariasis, dysentery, and diarrhea. The alkaloids derived from the Madagascan periwinkle Catharanthus roseus (Apocynaceae), used in a West Indian remedy for diabetes mellitus, have antitumor activity. The drug Maytensine, obtained from Mytenus ovatus Loes (Celastraceae), was found to be a powerful antitumor agent in animals. Tea made from the leaves of Osyris wightiana stimulated the flow of breast milk and also acted as a labor-inducing agent. Saponaria officinalis and Enterobbium cyclocarpum are both used in Egypt and Tanzania as spermicide contraceptives. A 1985 survey in Cross River State, Nigeria, demonstrated that 165 (61%) of respondents went to traditional healers for treatment. Part of their continued popularity is the person-centered approach that is virtually lacking in orthodox hospitals, although this humanistic approach to therapy is gradually gaining inroads into Western medical education. The services of both kinds of medicine could be harmonized by open-minded appraisal, identification of positive aspects, and acceptance of their complimentary nature.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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