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October 2021

Trop Med Int Health. 1997 Sep; 2(9): 903-11.

Is there a role for traditional medicine in basic health services in Africa? A plea for a community perspective.

van der Geest S.

Medical Anthropology Unit, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Traditional medicine in Africa is contrasted with biomedicine. Most traditional medical theories have a social and religious character and emphasize prevention and holistic features. Traditional medical practices are usually characterized by the healer's personal involvement, by secrecy and a reward system. Biomedical theory and practice show an almost opposite picture: asocial, irreligious, curative and organ-directed; professional detachment, public knowledge and-until recently-'free of charge'. It is suggested that local communities do not expect that basic health care will improve when traditional healers become integrated into the service. They ask instead for improvement of basic health care itself: more services with better access, more dedication and respect from doctors and nurses, more medicines and personnel. Fieldwork needs to be done at the community level to arrive at a better understanding and assessment of the community's opinion concerning a possible role of traditional medicine in basic health care.

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