The importance of alternative medicine in the Asian and African continents has been long established. In Nigeria today, its efficacy enjoys widespread acceptance even among orthodox medical practitioners some of whom had, before now, treated it with derision. Alternative medicine is a term covering practices which differ from current medical methods (such as homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic and herbal medicine). It has been defined as “every available approach to healing that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine”.
There are various definitions of Traditional Medicine. Dr. Olukemi Odukoya, a regular contributor in The Herbal Doctor: A Journal of African Medicine, defines it as, “The total combination of knowledge and practices, whether explicable or not, used in diagnosis, preventing or eliminating a physical, mental or social disease and which may rely exclusively on observations handed down from generation to generation, verbally or in writing depending on the religion, socio-cultural beliefs and practices of the people”.
Another definition describes it as Native Medicine. This is a derogatory term for Traditional Medicine handed down from the colonial era when any product whose origin is not abroad was dubbed inferior. The word “native” means anything not foreign or not introduced by the colonial masters. In other words, it had no value whatsoever. But that notion should be completely ignored.
Historically, the practice of alternative medicine dates back to the earliest periods of human existence.
Unfortunately, the dark ages of slavery in Africa when slaves were treated like lower animals led to loss of respect for their cultural and indigenous practices among them, the use of herbs. The colonial masters, who were mostly Christian missionaries, perceived the traditional herbalist as a rogue, a deceiver who encouraged witchcraft and wizardry, a stumbling block to Christian evangelism. Alternative medicine is a widely misunderstood term with various forms and methods of application in line with different localities across the globe. It goes by various names:
As the name implies, naturopathy involves the use of resources taken raw from Mother Nature as exemplified in the oldest forms in India called Ayuroeda. In the Arab world, including the Gulf region and some African countries, the variety is called Unani. Honey is the basic ingredient of most Unani medicines. The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Native American medicine and even the African Traditional Medicine fall under this category.
This is the most popular form of alternative medicine based on the principle of “let likes cure likes”. Medicines are prepared with diluted extracts of herbs or other elements alongside water, sugar or alcohol.
This is the practice of claiming to communicate with the dead by magic in order to foretell the future. It is the use of evil magical powers. Witchcraft is an example of necromancy where a witch doctor that is believed to possess special magical powers can heal people, adopting incantations, herbs and other unorthodox means.
This involves treating diseases and physical problems (like broken bones) by pressing, massaging and moving the bones in a person’s spine or joints. It is a simple alternative to orthopaedics.In each of the fore-going, there is the involvement of herbs.
5. SPIRITUAL MEDICINE
In Africa, there are yet others called spiritualists who use prayers and blessed ointment to heal the sick. This is a form of treatment that uses blessed ointment or olive oil with prayers to heal.
6. HERBAL MEDICINE
This simply involves growing herbs and using same for treatment. The practitioner is called a herbalist.
In those days, Traditional Medicine Practitioners (TMP) were believed to be those who operate from village hovels with little or no formal education. So, the orthodox medical practitioners comparing this “quackery” with their respectable curriculum of education in human anatomy maliciously regarded practitioners of natural medicine with boundless disdain. But that was then; now it is different. Traditional Medical Practitioners are now well read, widely travelled and determined to sustain their practices through extensive research and analysis. This is in line with the norm in Asia and other developed countries where significant attainments have been made in this regard.
According to Noah Oname, Editor, “The Herbal Doctor”, a journal on African Medicine, “… all our pretensions a s well as social and religious aversions to natural medicine are all crumbling before us because reality has dawned on us…”
For Dr. David Akosa Okongwu, Director and CEO, National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), “… Almost 80% of Nigerians depend on traditional medicine….”
Regardless of all criticisms, traditional medicine, it appears, has come to stay; not to abolish the orthodox practices but to complement it. After all, people reason, before the advent of orthodox medical practices, traditional medicine was already in existence especially in Africa.