EDITORIAL: Traditional medicine needs more research and support

The use of traditional medicine is very widespread in many societies, and Rwanda is no different.

Before the advent of modern medicine, traditional healers were the only port of call. Many of their skills were passed down through generations and kept their knowledge close to their chests; a guarded family secret.

Of course among the healers were many charlatans who boasted of being able to cure the impossible. But there were others whose knowledge of medicinal plants and a wide array of remedies caused the World Health Organisation to take notice and it now encourages it albeit with scientific approach.

It defines traditional medicine as “… diverse health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal, and/or mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to maintain well-being, as well as to treat, diagnose or prevent illness”.

Rwanda’s health ministry has also not been left behind and began by organising the over 14,000 recognised healers. The traditional doctors now have an organisation with 3,000 registered members, and they have one pressing priority; saving the dwindling plant species from extinction.

They have already identified close to 50 plant species that need urgent intervention but are yet to get the necessary funding. Apart from being an environmental protection matter, this noble intention needs all the help it can get.

If generations of our fore fathers depended on the traditional methods and got cured or succumbed to their ailments – as is the case today with modern medicine – then it must be something worth researching.

The Chinese have taken traditional remedies to another level because they incorporated traditional knowledge and science. Why can’t the same be replicated with our own traditional healers’ knowledge?