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Health and Disease in Africa: Traditional Medicine

Emphasizing social science and historical resources rather than clinical research.

Traditional Medicine

Traditional medicinal herbs in market in South Africa

Traditional healer in Zimbabwe advertises cures.

Utilization of African Traditional Medicine: PubMED

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What is Traditional Medicine?

Traditional medicine is the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.

-World Health Organization. Traditional Medicine: Definitions

Specialized Resources


There are a number of books on African traditional medicine (ATM). Locate them in discoverE using the main subject headings:

Traditional medicine -- Africa ; Healing -- Africa

Also name of tribe --Medicine eg:

Bambara (African people) -- Medicine

There are also general books on traditional medicine, e.g.

Title: Traditional medicine : a global perspective
Author: Steven B Kayne Publisher: London : Pharmaceutical Press
Creation Date: 2010
Woodruff Health Library Book Stacks (WB 55 T7 2010 )




PubMed, the major index of medical literature, has a wealth of articles on African traditional medicine.

AnthropologyPlus, the major index of the anthropology journals,  which also cover health and medical topics including traditional medicine.

Other indexes noted on the general Articles tab including Google and Google Scholar also lead to information.

Specialized resources:

World Health Organization and African Union


In 2000, the WHO Regional Committee for Africa adopted Resolution AF/RC50/R3 on Promoting the Role of Traditional Medicine in Health Systems: A Strategy for the African Region.


In 2001, the African Union (AU) Summit of Heads of State and Government, in 2001, declared the period 2001–2010 as the Decade of African Traditional Medicine and in 2003 adopted a plan of action for its implementation. In addition, the Summit in 2001 and the Fifty-seventh Regional Committee for Africa in 2007 declared traditional medicine research as a priority. In 2008 the Algiers Declaration on Research for Health recognized the need to promote research in traditional medicine and strengthen health systems, taking into account the sociocultural and environmental situation of the people. In 2008, the Ouagadougou Declaration on Primary Health Care and Health Systems in Africa reiterated the Alma Ata Declaration by calling on countries “to set up sustainable mechanisms for increasing the availability, affordability and accessibility of essential medicines and the use of community-directed approaches and African traditional medicines”, among others.


The year 2010 marked a decade since the adoption of the Regional Strategy and the declaration of the African Traditional Medicine Decade. The AU Conference of African Ministers of Health held in Windhoek from 17 to 21 April 2011 discussed the End-of-Decade Review report on African Traditional Medicine and renewed the Decade from 2011 to 2020.


Most of the documents related to these developments can be found on the Internet, e.g. PROGRESS REPORT ON DECADE OF TRADITIONAL MEDICINE IN THE AFRICAN REGION  WHO REGIONAL COMMITTEE FOR AFRICA Sixty-first session Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire, 29 August–2 September 2011 AFR/RC61/PR/2 Download Report at this website.


World Health Organization.

Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005.

Traditional Medicine in WHO African Region. 2009.

African Health Monitor Special Issue 14: Traditional Medicine. 2010 (WHO) Note August 31st is Traditional Medicine Day in Africa.

For additional information:

World Health Organization (WHO) Traditional Medicine is a topical guide to WHO work in the area.  Note: You can search the WHO publications site by topic, region and country. Search the entire WHO site with the box at top of the screen.

National Reference Centre for African Traditional Medicines (South Africa)

African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, AJTCAM Abstracts of latest issue online. Access to full text older articles upon free registration. Topics - Applied Medicinal Plants, Traditional Medicines, Complementary Alternative Medicines, Food and Agricultural Technologies, and Promotion of Healthy use of Medicinal Products. Based at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
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