By Fr Anselm Adodo

At the conference titled: ‘African Medicinal Plant Research: Uses, Potentials and Challenges’, organized by the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, Samuel Adegboyega University, Ogwa, Edo State and Paxherbals, on June 6 and 7, something unique happened.

Traditional bone setters from the local community came to demonstrate, describe, explain and defend their clinical methods. They came, not with books, stethoscopes or syringes, but with many of their recuperating patients, as evidence of the efficacy of their bone setting skill. Ogwa, a small village in Esanland, is a world-famous centre of traditional orthopaedic practice.

There they were, the unlettered, teaching the lettered. A team of traditional orthopaedic specialists, with no formal university degrees, giving lectures to people of the ‘gown’: Medical Doctors, Pharmacists, Professors of botany, microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry and their students.

It was a clear case of science interrogating beliefs and Tradition.

Tradition said: ‘all our patients must first be taken to the eldest man in the village as a sign of respect before we commence treatment’.

Science asked: ‘why must you take a patient in critical condition to a village elder before commencing treatment? Will the treatment fail if you decide not to go and pay homage to the elder?’

Tradition said: ‘We always soak our medicinal herbs in these traditional clay pots to treat our patients’.

Science asked: ‘If you soak your herbs in aluminium or stainless-steel pots, will that reduce the efficacy of the herbs?’

Tradition answered: ‘We don’t know. What we know, is what we do’.

Science asked: ‘How do you verify that your patients have been cured?’

Tradition answered: ‘When a patient is cured, he will trek by himself or enter motor and go home!’

Science asked: ‘What are the botanical names of the herbs you use to treat people?’

Tradition answered: ‘When you are ready to learn the local names of the herbs in our community, let us know, and we will teach you’.

Science asked: ’Have you done clinical trials to verify the claims that your herbs can cure diseases?’

Tradition answered: ‘If any member of your family has a broken arm or leg, bring them here and we will cure them. Who dey naked no dey shuuk hand for pocket!’

Such interaction between science, tradition, culture and belief is not only healthy but is necessary for the development of our healthcare system. Make no mistake about it, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said categorically that Africa CANNOT and will never solve its health challenges unless it develops and incorporates its traditional healing system to the national healthcare system. However, do we even need the WHO to tell us this?

When we begin to organize more of such positive and creative interactions between Medical Science and Traditional medicine, between science and tradition, the exogenous and the indigenous, then perhaps, we will be able to come close to providing sustainable healthcare to our people.

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