Posts or Comments 17 June 2024

Indigenous Medicine Bill Brieger | 12 Mar 2013 06:51 am

Traditional Medicine in Uganda: Is it a ticking time bomb?

Violet Okech, Georgina Kirunda, Remy S M Muhire and Paschal Ssebbowa posted this blog at SBFPHC Policy Advocacy. We have added more information on malaria and traditional medicine in Uganda.

travel_uganda_medicine_man2.jpgIt is estimated that over 60% of Ugandans seek medical attention from Traditional Healers. This pattern cuts across all social classes and educational levels.  With a medical doctor: patient ratio of 1:20,000 compared to traditional healer: patient ratio of 1:200-400, high poverty levels and a poor health system, the traditional healers’ services are the most accessible to the majority of Ugandans. With such statistics, it is inconceivable that the country has no national policy to regulate the activities of the traditional healers.  It is possible that their services may be causing more harm than good to their clients.

[Photo: Traditional Medicine man selling herbs courtesy of]
The World Health Organization encourages sharing of information about Traditional Medicine/ Alternative medicine policy formulation because they acknowledge the complexity of the process.  The traditional healers in Uganda have mobilized themselves under The National Council of Traditional Healers and Herbalists Associations of Uganda (NACOTHA). They seek to unite and to push for their field of Traditional Medicine to be given greater consideration by the government.  It is reported that the Ministry of Health in Uganda drafted a Policy so as to regulate and improve research in Traditional Medicine in 2008. This policy has not been finalized to date.

There is need to formulate a policy to track, regulate traditional medicine in Uganda and  conduct intensive research in traditional medicines so as to ensure proper determination and monitoring of drug safety. There is also need for preservation of the medicinal plants against extinction. Relevant medical training should also be offered to traditional healers.

A look into the literature on herbal medicine for malaria in Uganda found a 1999 report on a trial in the southwest on one indigenous herb. “No severe adverse reactions were observed, although about 50 per cent experienced minor side-effects. Although complete parasite clearance was achieved in only one case, the geometric mean of parasite counts had declined significantly by day 7. There was also a marked symptomatic improvement in 17 of the 19 patients.”

Another study in eastern Uganda documented that, “Twenty-seven species distributed between 24 genera  and 16 families were reportedly used in herbal preparations for the treatment of malaria. The most frequently mentioned species were Vernonia amygdalina Delile, Momordica foetida Schumach., Zanthoxylum chalybeum Engl., Lantana camara L. and Mangifera indica L.” As Okech and colleagues note, much more research is needed on the efficacy and safety of this valuable herbal resource.

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