60,000 Year-Old Indigenous Healing Techniques Make Their Way Into Hospitals

For thousands of years, people around the world have used traditional healing methods to heal the sick and wounded. Before the advent of modern medicine, indigenous healers used natural therapies, and plant and animal-based remedies.

Can traditional and modern go hand in hand?

Nowadays, modern medicine and traditional techniques are sometimes considered to be at odds with each other. However, thanks to research and a growing trend in developed and developing nations to accept alternative methods, traditional medicine is making a comeback  in countries where modern medicine has largely taken over. It would seem that a population increasingly worried about the side effects of drugs is now turning to methods like naturopathy, osteopathy, yoga, reflexology and acupuncture to complement Western medicine.

In fact, a survey conducted by SciDev.net found that 74 percent of US Medical students are in favor of integrating indigenous remedies and techniques into modern medicine. The number of patients who have tried “alternative therapy” such as homeopathy and acupuncture is on the rise in the West. Homeopathy is has already been integrated into mainstream healthcare of over 80 countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, India, Greece, and Mexico. 

Aboriginal healers in Australia

In Australia, a number of indigenous healers are now working in medical clinics. Patients can be treated with both traditional aboriginal medicine and Western medicine. In 2012, the Aangu Ngangkai Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (ANTAC) became the first organization of Aboriginal healers in Australia. Its purpose, according to ANTAC representatives, is “to bring Ngangkai’s healing to communities, families and individuals and reach out to as many people as possible.”

ANTAC has also been influential in bringing better health care to indigenous people. Now that they have the option to see traditional healers, they are more willing to seek health care at clinics and trust in the care provided to them. At the same time, the Ngangkari have a wealth of knowledge of the illnesses specifically associated with their lands and people, and can therefore complement and aid the work of Western doctors.

Healer Cyril Mckenzie at the Royal Adelaide Hospital after being called for an appointment.

Canada’s Integrated Clinics

A similar phenomenon has been taking place in Canada. Ontario, British Columbia, and Manitoba have opened clinics that integrate the techniques of their indigenous populations with modern medicine. These centers employ both physicians and indigenous healers. 

Canada’s Ministerial Advisory Council on Rural Health believes that the decline in the general health of its indigenous populations is due to the loss of traditional Aboriginal knowledge, medicine, and healing practices. Over the years, indigenous culture has eroded to the point that the treatments that were passed down for centuries are lost to this generation.

“Traditional medicine must be integrated into the current healthcare system so that all Aboriginal people, First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, have the choice of being able to obtain access to traditional medicine,” the Council states.

Peru’s AMETRA project

Another example of successful cooperation between traditional and modern medicine is the AMETRA Project in the rainforests of Eastern Peru. Pharmacologists met with Shipibo-Conibo village healers to test the efficacy of their traditional plant remedies.

This information was then incorporated into healthcare materials that included modern medicinal methods as well, and distributed in indigenous communities. In this way, the Shipibo-Conibo and other tribes were able to preserve their cultural identity and become aware of the strength of their own botanical medicines. The project also generated “a greater appreciation by the central health ministry for the relevance and value of traditional botanical medicine in primary health care programs.”

Countries working to integrate traditional healers into health care systems:

Besides Australia, Canada, and Peru, many other countries have seen the value of integrating traditional medicine into mainstream healthcare. Here are a few more that have begun integration programs:

  • Ghana: Research has found that collaboration between traditional and modern medicine is an effective and sustainable way to improve healthcare outcomes for Ghana’s people. One of the country’s leading medical schools offers a postgraduate diploma program in traditional medicine.
  • Chile: Half of the workers in the Makewe Hospital belong to the Mapuche indigenous community and practice traditional medicine, the other half practices modern medicine. The Indigenous Health Association encourages understanding and cooperation between them, even teaching non-Mapuche staff about Mapuche culture and treatments.
  • Nepal: Nepalese traditional healers have been incorporated into the HIV/AIDS program of the United Nations Development Programme, with promising results.

Photo Credits: ANTACIHREG, templeofthewayoflight.org, ABC


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