Background on African Traditional Medicine

History of Ethnomedicine studies

From historical and ethnographical beginnings, during the last years Ethnomedicine has turned its attention to laboratory research, also involving biomedicine and pharmacology. This made possible also by the auspices and biomedicine and pharmacology. This made possible also by the auspices and biomedicine and pharmacology. This made possible also by the auspices and the activities of the World Health Organisation (WHO); in fact, the traditional medicine program WHO was precisely thought of, as an answer to a renewed interest for popular therapies and remedies, in view of their possible identification and utilization within national health services (Djucanovic and Mach 1978)

During the international conference on Primary Health Care of 1978, the Alma Ata Declaration built the historical framework of the official politics of the traditional medicine program, thus opening a dialogue between two distinct systems of health assistance: the traditional and the modern one. However, a condition was posed: support to the traditional medicines, healers and remedies is to be given only to those practices that, on the basis of medical- scientific testing, are proved to be safe and effective.

The traditional medicine programme developed through a series of resolutions, adopted from the World Health Assembly and the Regional Committees of WHO.

In 1987, the 40th World Health Assembly urged the member States to promote integrated programmes on medicinal plants and their preparations, cultivation and conservation.

In 1988, during the 41st World Health Assembly, the Chiang Mai Resolution was centred on the theme “saving lives by plants”; it recognized traditional medicines as an essential element of cure.

In 1989, the 42nd World Health Assembly, the inventory of traditional practices in different countries was encouraged.

In 1991, during the 44th World Health Assembly, the WHA 44.34 resolution was accepted. It is “bent” on stimulating co-operation between traditional healers and the professionals of modern health assistance, with special regard to the use of traditional medicine, which have been scientifically validated and proved safe and effective. The resolution aimed at the reduction of national pharmaceutical expenses.

In October 1991 the Chinese Government, supported by WHO, financed and organized a World Conference on Traditional Medicine. The conference proposed four goals:

  • The foundation of a worldwide association for academic exchanges
  • The training of health workers
  • The designation of 22 October as World Day of Traditional Medicine
  • The foundation of an international journal.

The explicit future goals is to attain a synthesis between modern medicine and traditional ones, and to open a space where the two approaches can live together, and so be enriched by mutual exchange.

Background on Ethnomedicine

African traditional medicine is a mainstay of primary health care for the majority in Africa. The World Health Organisation research showed that 70% to 80% of the population of emerging economics has always relied on resources within their environment to survive. Plants, minerals and animals constitute the major natural resources used by humankind for prevention, curative and rehabilitative health in Africa. As in many other continents, these resources have been in use for tens of thousands of years by traditional health practitioners (THP’s) who acquire their knowledge and skills through observation, spiritual revelation, personal experience, training and direct information from their predecessors.

Ethnomedicine Science.

Ethnomedicine is the bridge between the fundamental indigenous systems and the academic/modern application of such. For example, the process of eating is an intimate encounter that we have with the physical environment. Eating is a process in which what we eat becomes part of our physical body, therefore a strong connection to nutrition and lifestyle. Also other experiences are as important, like exercise, emotional and mental health and the wellbeing of our environment. All spheres of our lives are intimately interconnected and all work together to promote health.

Another great strength of ethnomedicine lies in the fact that the practitioners take patients, with their cultural expectation and treats them in a modern holistic way. A strong specialization and referral system is in place to address all situations.

The practitioners at all levels have this holistic knowledge of health.

Ethnomedicine is a multi-disciplinary field of study that draws on approaches and methods from both the social and biological sciences, culturally based biological and environmental knowledge, culturally based perception and cognition of the natural world, and associated behaviours and practices, concerned with the cultural interpretations of health, disease and illness and addresses the healthcare seeking process and healing practices.

The modality is also the study of cultural concepts of health, disease and illness, and of the nature of healing systems.

Ethnomedicine has also turned its attention to laboratory research, made possible by the auspices of the World Health Organisation.

Ethnomedicine is a system that applies both art and science to help the human body to restore its health and well-being. It utilizes traditional remedies to activate the immune system. Herbs are used for cleaning, elimination and detoxification. Others herbs are used to stimulate the body’s self-healing capabilities to counteract physical symptoms, whilst others may be used as a tonic to help the body’s immunity.

The human body easily assimilates nutrients, vitamins, minerals natural antibiotics and hormonal substances from plants to obtain both food and medicine. Ethnomedicine is a healing modality for chronic problems and advocates for a healthy diet and lifestyle. With the skilful selection of herbs, a profound transformation in health is effected without the danger of the unpleasant side effects inherent in some drug-based medicines. Plants have a direct impact on physiological activity and by knowing what body processes one wants to help or heal: the appropriate herb or plant is selected.

Many Ethnomedicine products have nappi codes from the MCC. EPASA has listed manufacturers of Ethnomedicine products in this profile. Traditional medicine has been used in South Africa for thousands of years and has proved to be useful and safe.

President Jacob Zuma, in October of 2011 opened a new section under the SABS which will include African Traditional Medicine and address herbal products manufactured in South Africa.

The initiatives taken by the President enabled the SABS Standards Development and the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Support to launch African Traditional Medicine to its rightful place in mainstream choice of remedies. The age-old remedies need no introduction to the people of Africa. The standards generating initiative of SABS serves to allow formulators and manufactures of African traditional medicines to take ownership of the standards development process and full responsibility for regulation of their products. The efficacy of most of the traditional remedies currently available has been proven over hundreds of years. Solutions will be found to protect and respect individual and family intellectual properties where required, so avoiding delaying processes of standardisation.

It is with great anticipation that we at EPASA commit fully to the opportunity of developing our own standards under the guidance of the SABS. As wisely stated by the SABS it should be a bottom up process rather than the SABS dictating standards to down.

This ground breaking event will ensure standards, so that the products can be commercialized in a proper and safe manner. It must be taken into account that Ethnomedicine is a “work in progress” industry and profession.

EPASA members clearly understand that they practice within the philosophy and principle of Ethnomedicine and this does not allow overlapping with remedies used by other professions. EPASA is currently working with the SABS in this thrust of developing standards for regulating products of Ethnomedicine.

The CSIR is available to medicine manufactures and has a mandate and strategy to accommodate Ethnomedicine testing and also for preserving the intellectual property (IP) of the owner. Regarding traditional medicine we refer to Government Gazette 31271 chapter three; chapter four is also informative.

EPASA has active sub-committees consisting of from two to four members each. These committees work in their various clusters and debate interactively with the other committees. Resolutions are discussed with the EPASA executive for final acceptance of resolutions.