Is there a role for trado-medicine in the Nigerian health sector? (12)

4 January, 2019

In this debate about the pros and cons of traditional medicine, it would perhaps be helpful if we could look at this from the perspective of patients with specific healthcare needs.

This might help us identify conditions (a) for which traditional medicine is proven to be effective as well as (b) conditions where all of us would agree that the person should ideally be treated with modern medicine. There would be large areas of health care in-between (c) where traditional medicine might be effective, with or without concurrent modern medicine.

One would then have a list of diseases/conditions for each of a, b, and c below:

(a) Traditional medicine is proven to be effective

(b) TM is unlikely to be effective - the patient should be referred to modern medicine

(c) TM may be effective, with or without concurrent modern medicine.

I have tried in vain to identify (through Google searching) an overall analysis of the pros and cons of traditional medicine for a wide range of diseases. Is anyone aware of any attempt to do this?

One might expect that traditional medicine would be particularly effective for particular health conditions such a mental health disorders and chronic pain. Given the fact that many plants contain pharmacologically active ingredients, one might expect also therapeutic effects for specific diseases, although there would still a question about safety and efficacy as compared with (derived or underived) modern medicines.

By contrast, we might expect that traditional medicine would not be effective in dealing with a huge number of conditions such as obstructed labour, acute appendicitis, snakebite, myocardial infarction, or HIV. For such conditions, referral to modern medicine is vital and can be life-saving. (Of course, if there is a credible indication from traditional medicine that a plant might be effective for, say, patients with HIV, then such plants should be analysed - this is the basis of ethnopharmacology, which has been important in providing new treatments for modern medicine).

Our challenge is to identify dispassionately and rigorously the benefits and harms of traditional medicine. Where there are benefits, we should maximise them. Where there are harms (whether direct or indirect), we should mitigate and eliminate them.

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG /orcid.org/0000-0001-9557-1487 neil@hifa.org