Mechanisms should be put in place to promote indigenous knowledge that impacts public health, scholars have said.
They were speaking during the first International Symposium on Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Public Health Care in Eastern and Southern Africa, at the University of Rwanda’s Gikondo Campus in Kigali, on Monday.
Held under the theme “Enriching Public Health Equity and Leadership through Indigenous Knowledge Systems”, the two-day symposium closed yesterday.
Participants discussed ways to develop indigenous knowledge systems to ensure that traditional medicine is used hand in hand with modern medicine.
The symposium brought together researchers, academia in the health sector and related disciplines, pharmacists from Eastern and Southern Africa, and local traditional healers.
The Director General for Science, Technology and Research at the Ministry of Education, Dr Marie-Christine Gasingirwa said promotion of indigenous knowledge is important because of numerous benefits.
She said traditional and modern medicine should complement each other.
“With this, we shall be able to extend healthcare to more people than we do today in a way that is affordable.”
She called on higher learning and research institutions to collaborate with traditional healers in analysing medicinal herbs.
These ingredients can be commercialised so that “we add value to what we have and to help develop pharmaceutical industry.”
The president of American University of Sovereign Nations, Prof. Darryl Macer, said despite the effects of colonisation on indigenous knowledge, traditional medicine and is used worldwide.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 80 per cent of the world’s population use traditional medicine.
As a result, Macer said, WHO has attached an important role on traditional medicine and is promoting biodiversity conservation in a bid to preserve species under threat.
“We need also to invest in research, train people practicing indigenous knowledge systems and ensure that education systems prioritise this knowledge,” he said.
Need for regulation
There are about 14,000 traditional healers in the country, but only about 2,300 of them are accredited, according to Daniel Gafaranga, the president of AGA Rwanda Network, an umbrella for traditional healers in Rwanda.
Gafaranga called for enactment of a law governing traditional medicine in the country, to help streamline their work.
“If the law is put in place it will help us treat Rwandans without fear.”
Léocadie Mukarugagi, 79, a traditional healer in Nyarugenge District, said there are medicinal trees that are on the verge of depletion.
He cited medicine that helps women in labour, and the tree can be traced in Muhanga and Huye districts.
Gafaranga said they need a piece of land to plant medicinal trees so as to prevent their depletion.
Dr Theophile Dushime, the Director General of Clinical and Public Health Services at the Ministry of Health said the ministry is considering ways to regulate the sector.
He said the ministry recognises the existence of traditional medicine in the country.
“Knowing the list of traditional healers in the country is difficult and ensuring that what they do cannot have adverse effects to patients is also difficult,” he said.
He said a law and policy governing traditional medicine are in the pipeline.
Dr Petrida Ijumba, a senior lecturer at Mount Kenya University, said the symposium was a follow up a forum on indigenous knowledge which was also held in Rwanda last year.
“Our people all over Africa use indigenous knowledge in terms of traditional medicine and many other ways, in food, agriculture and so forth,” she said.
“I hope that the collaboration which will come from this symposium will build on research and help strengthen public health and indigenous knowledge.”