The "Relevance" of the African Traditional Medicine (Alternative Medicine) to Health Care Delivery System in Nigeria

By Isola, Omoleke Ishaq | The Journal of Developing Areas, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview
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The "Relevance" of the African Traditional Medicine (Alternative Medicine) to Health Care Delivery System in Nigeria

Isola, Omoleke Ishaq, The Journal of Developing Areas


This paper set out to examine the relevance of the African Traditional Medicine in Health Care Delivery Services in Nigeria. This has become necessary for three main reasons: Firstly, African Traditional Medicine Practitioners provided the earliest medical care in Nigeria. Secondly, the World Health Organisation has recognized the need to integrate the traditional medicine on the orthodox medicine when it defines it, as the total combination of knowledge and practices, whether explicable or not, used in diagnosing, preventing or eliminating physical, mental or social diseases. Thirdly, there are claims by the practitioners that since orthodox medicine cannot cure all diseases; hence, they can intervene in the areas where orthodox medicine is weak. Such areas include, social psychiatry, hypertension, diabetes, epilepsy and other psychosomatic illnesses. The researcher thus took a purposive sample of one hundred and fifty consisting of (50) traditional medicine practitioners, 50 orthodox medicine practitioners and 50 patients using interview and questionnaire administration to garner information on the relevance of traditional medicine in the Health Care Delivery system in Nigeria. Participant observation method was also used to reinforce the interview and questionnaire administration respectively. Secondary data were also obtained from the traditional medical clinics visited in Ibadan, Oyo, lIe-lfe and Ikire all in South Western Nigeria. Data collected were analysed descriptively and the findings are that: (i) African traditional medicine predated orthodox medicine in Nigeria; (ii) Traditional medical care is strong in some areas where the orthodox medicine is not very effective; (iii) There are problems associated with administration of traditional medical care such as issues of measurability of its drugs, dosage, preparation, documentation, preservation, potency and determination of the side effect and (iv) if the shortcomings are rectified, then, the African traditional medicine has a lot to offer in saving lives of African citizens and beyond the continent. The paper concluded that there is a need to properly integrate and blend African medicine on the orthodox medicine because such reinforcement will be of immense advantage to the sick and humanity in general.

JEL Classification: JEL I (Health Economics)

Keywords: Health, Relevance, Herbs, Traditional Medicine, Diseases, Potency


The nature of health care services in Nigeria is such that can be simply trichotomised into:

(i) Orthodox or Western Medicine

(ii) African Traditional Medicine and

(iii) Spiritual Healing

It may be erroneous to believe that medical services came to Nigeria with the advent of the British colonization. Hitherto, there were traditional herbalists curing and healing the sick in Nigeria. In the words of Omoleke1, "although health service in Nigeria today is to a large extent based on the orthodox health care delivery system, yet it can be said that African traditional medicine is unconsciously a part of the overall traditional medicine of the world from which most of the modern scientific medicine has evolved". In essence, the traditional health care is still not vanished as it forms a part of health care delivery system in both rural and urban centres in Nigeria.

Such traditional health system includes the "Wombai" of the Hausa armies, the Barber surgeon of the Nupe people, the "Adahunse' and "Alaseje' of the Yorubas and "dibia' of the Ibos. Johnson and Schram2 also observed that the herbalist status in the society has been damaged by his association with witchcraftand sorcery but this does not dislodge the fact that his pharmacological active compounds had undoubtedly been used and are still in use, even though the dosage is uncertain. It could therefore be erroneous and misleading to argue that Africans had no health care system until the advent of the colonial masters.

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The "Relevance" of the African Traditional Medicine (Alternative Medicine) to Health Care Delivery System in Nigeria


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