Traditional medicine and modern medicine

The modern or conventional medicine health care system has been described as the ‘Western model’ based on historical origin and the way it is practiced.

Historically conventional medicine is regarded as having originated from the western parts of the world and the way it is practiced is to ensure that one’s condition is diagnosed to ascertain the cause of the disease before administering treatment. However, this is contrary to traditional medicine where the cause of sickness is understood from a different perspective. The traditional medicine practitioners link the cause of sickness to a number of aspects including the physical body, the spiritual body and the mind. Therefore treatment is given totally to solve these aspects.

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Another issue in the relationship is on the amount of the dose of medicine taken. In the conventional health care system dosage is pre-determined from previous scientific studies whereas in the traditional medicine health care system, dosage of medicine is not taken into strict account, as it is just estimated for the particular patients leading to great variation in the dosage given. It is also important to note that the drugs used in modern medicine go through a rigorous series of laboratory tests and clinical trials before they are approved for use to prove their  effectiveness and safety and the practitioners are fully registered and certified for practice. In contrast, traditional medicine efficacy and safety is based on historical evidence use as it is passed on from generation to generation and their practitioners may not have certification or license to practice. In terms of health care management of the patient, the conventional health care system requires most often the patients to follow the doctor or practitioner which is contrary to the traditional medicine health care system where the practitioner is the one who often visits the patient. The training in both systems of medicine requires lengthy training over many years. The training in conventional medicine is formal and knowledge for practicing is acquired through education in colleges and universities as opposed to African traditional medicine, where its knowledge is often passed one-to-one through families, and practitioners are often born into a family of healers.

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In the past century conventional medicine has embraced some components of traditional medicine. These medicines are used to treat a variety of diseases including malaria, cancer, arthritis, asthma and allergies just to mention a few. Indeed traditional medicine is a source of some highly successful and valued conventional drugs. It is estimated that one in four conventional drugs are derived from natural products which form the basis of traditional medicine. The best known of these drugs is artemisinin that is currently used as the first line for treatment of malaria disease in most countries in Africa. The artemisinin is a chemical that is extracted from the plant called Artemisia annua or Chinese sweet wormwood that originated from China. For centuries, the Chinese had used this plant in their traditional medicine for the  treatment of malaria and fever. Another drug with traditional medicine background is vincristine and vinblastine that are used for the treatment and management of cancer. This drug was isolated from the leaves of one of the traditional medicinal plants, Vinca rosea.

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The failure to fully recognize and integrate of traditional medicine  into modern medical practices has on several occasions led to adverse effects, such as dangerous drug-herb interactions due to the mixing of incompatible herbs and pharmaceuticals by patients. For example, herbal medicines such as Hypericum perforatum, a plant used to treat depression and anxiety can limit the effectiveness of common prescription drugs such as synthetic anti-depressants and birth control pills when taken concurrently.
In conclusion, it’s important to note that making traditional medicine truly mainstream, incorporating its knowledge into modern healthcare and ensuring it meets modern safety and efficacy standards, is no easy task and marrying traditional and modern medicine faces numerous challenges that stem from key differences in how each is practiced, evaluated and managed.

Komakech Richard and Omujal Francis
Natural Chemotherapeutics Research institute.
Kampala (Uganda)



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