Questions Raised on Indigenous Medicine in Ghana

Azusa Sato raises an important question in a research article on health service choices by Ghanaians – why do individuals turn to traditional medicine only as a second recourse?

In general, Sato’s review of literature on health care choices cite the maxim that indigenous medicine is easily accessible, affordable, available and acceptable. The irony in this study is that indigenous medicine is a more popular second choice than first.  Sato shows that “The most common acute complaint was ‘fever, headache and hot body’ (334/460, or 72.6%),” which people may interpret as possible malaria in a local context.  Interestingly, only 45 respondents used indigenous medicines first whether they sought acute care from outside or found/made it at home.

When a second or additional recourse was added, the number using indigenous medicine rose to 103 people for acute illnesses. Respondents who chose indigenous medicine at some point overwhelmingly had a favorable opinion (77%) of this form of medicine.

dscn3872sm.jpgGhana has a dynamic health system that is attempting to bring more people into the orthodox care orbit.  The national health insurance scheme to which over 60-70% of people subscribe, make care seeking at orthodox health facility (either public or private) more attractive and affordable.  Ghana is also working on expanding primary health care through establishing community health compounds – a local building donated by the community and staffed by government trained community health officers. Although these measures are a ways from attaining universality, they may in part explain a tendency to choosing orthodox care first.

Another interesting irony of Ghana’s pharmacy system is the the health authorities have actually approved some indigenous malaria medicines (see picture). These are sold alongside Coartem and artesunate-amodiquine in licensed shops and pharmacies.

Pharmacy stocks and consumer care seeking choices support Sato’s recommendations for seeking more evidence to develop an integrated system of care in Ghana.  With global health funding in seeming decline, any effort to find additional efficacious local resources to expand malaria treatment are most welcome.

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