Indigenous Knowledge and Malaria

The World Bank has been operating a program and website that focuses on indigenous knowledge of communities and cultures where health and development projects take place. While this website explores obvious issues such as indigenous medicine and farming practices, it also looks at how local knowledge and practices can contribute to improving program management and evaluation.

Nearly 100 issues of IK Notes have been published since 1998.  For example, IK Notes #51 reminds us that quinine was derived from the chincona tree, and now artesunate drugs come from the Chinese herb, Artemisia annua.  This issue goes further to how the Tanga AIDS Working Group is enlisting the ready availability, knowledge and skills of indigenous healers to enhance home based care.

The economics of indigenous healing are examined in IK Notes #32. This issue notes that because of the local perception that malaria is relatively easy to diagnose, community members seek the most readily available and least expensive forms of treatment, often leading to the choice of indigenous medicine instead of going to hospital.

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IK Notes #52 addresses the relation between indigenous perceptions of disease/illness and the knowledge of local plants for treatment.  A study in Ethiopia found that where there were no local equivalents of the term ‘malaria’, specific plants for treatment could not be isolated.

Mali is the focus of IK Notes #47 where a local plant has multiple uses. “Traditionally, rural women used Jatropha curcas for medicine (seeds as a laxative, latex to stop bleeding and against infections, leaves against malaria) and for soap production.”

neem-igboora.JPGIndigenous knowledge has been documented in the preventive realm. In IK Notes #73 focus groups in Malawi found that, “Malaria stands out as the single largest health problem in all of the study communities. A local wild shrub cited as an effective mosquito repellent, is used to varying extents among the study communities.”

Explore the IK website and think about how you can ensure that indigenous knowledge in other malaria endemic areas can be documented and put into use to save lives.

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