Integrating Indigenous Healing Techniques into Modern Medicine


Before the advent of modern medicine, people used traditional healing methods. Modern and traditional healing methods may seem to be incompatible but traditional healers still play a very important role in many communities around the world.

Their role is often largely unaccepted by the modern health care sector but this is starting to change in some countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes the use of traditional medicine in health care delivery because it recognizes the central role it plays in many communities and the widespread reliance on it.

Aboriginal Healers in Australia

In Australia, aboriginal healers are working in medical clinics. The Anangu Ngangkari Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (ANTAC) is an organization of aboriginal healers.  It is dedicated to bringing better health care to indigenous people and now that they have the option of seeing traditional healers at clinics, they are more willing to seek out health care.

The traditional healers have a wealth of knowledge associated with their lands and people and work alongside Western doctors to offer care.

Integrated clinics in Canada

In Canada, clinics have opened that employ both physicians and indigenous healers. Canada’s Ministerial Advisory Council of Rural Health states that all Aboriginal people must have the choice of being able to access traditional medicine.

Treatments passed down from generation to generation have been lost as their culture erodes and this has caused a decline in health in indigenous populations.

Centers in British Columbia, Ontario and Manitoba now integrate the techniques of indigenous populations with modern medicine.

The AMETRA project in Peru

The AMETRA Project in the rainforests of Eastern Peru is another example of co-operation between modern and traditional healers. Pharmacologists tested the efficacy of the plant remedies of traditional healers in the village of Shipibo-Conibo.

The information was incorporated into health care materials and distributed to the communities.

The project generated greater appreciation by the central health ministry for the relevance of traditional botanic medicines preserved the cultural identity of the tribes and showed them the strength of their own medicines.

Other countries where integration is occurring

In Ghana, a leading medical school offers a postgraduate diploma in traditional medicine. Health care outcomes for people are improving by integrating traditional medicine into mainstream health care.

In Chile, the Mapuche indigenous community makes up half of the workers in the Makewe Hospital where they practice traditional medicine alongside those who practice modern medicine.

The Indigenous Health Association encourages co-operation between them and organizes committees to enable interaction between the Mapuche community and the hospital administrators.  The majority of patients use both the Mapuche and biomedical systems.

In Nepal, traditional healers play a central role in scaling up community health care. Incorporating Nepalese traditional healers in the HIV/AIDS program of the United Nations Development Program in the Doti district of Nepal showed promising results.

It can be a struggle for traditional healers and modern medical practitioners to work together but by acknowledging traditional medicine as a part of primary care, access to care is increased and knowledge and resources are preserved.


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