Integrating modern medical knowledge into traditional medical practice (3)

9 July, 2018

Can anyone provide examples of where traditional healers have successfully learned to integrate 'modern medical knowledge' into tradtional medical practice?

I would suggest that almost all traditional healers have been exposed to, or heard about, modern medicine. Many use modern drugs on a daily basis (appropriately or inappropriately) as part of their treatment. Healthcare providers in China are specifically trained to use both allopathic and traditional Chinese medicine.

The danger is where traditional healers do not recognise life-threatening situations and respond appropriately.

We have heard from Joseph Ana and others that traditional birth attendants have been successfully trained in Nigeria to provide safer care to mothers before and during childbirth.

This new paper in the Journal of Global Health says 'Traditional healers... played important roles, despite a lack of formal engagement or support' in the West Africa Ebola crisis (2014/15).

Community health workers during the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – Journal of Global Health (2018)

Authors: Nathan P Miller, Penelope Milsom, Ginger Johnson, Juliet Bedford, Aline Simen Kapeu, Abdoulaye Oumar Diallo, Kebir Hassen, Nuzhat Rafique, Kamrul Islam, Robert Camara, Joseph Kandeh, Chea Sanford Wesseh, Kumanan Rasanathan, Jerome Pfaffmann Zambruni, and Heather Papowitz

As one respondent says: "It was later on that we had the information that Ebola is a sickness that can kill people. If one person is infected in a family, and if that family is not careful, they will all be infected. So based on that information we started keeping our distance. Along the way, we received a call that all the traditional healers should come for the training. So it was the training that prevented many more of our friends being killed."

There is no reason why a traditional healer should not learn the competencies required to be a certificated Community Health Worker, thereby bringing the benefits of both approaches (and, meanwhile, becoming a safer practitioner). Do we have examples of this 'graduation'? (There is perhaps only a small subgroup of traditional healers who might be willing and able to learn, but their overall number would nevertheless be very large in many countries.)

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 18,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on five global forums in three languages. He also currently chairs the Dgroups Foundation (, which supports 800 communities of practice on international development, health and social justice. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: