Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Herbalists, traditional healers and pharmacists: a view of the tuberculosis in Ghana

Volume 24, Issue 1, January–February 2014, Pages 89–95

Open Access

Herbalists, traditional healers and pharmacists: a view of the tuberculosis in Ghana

Open Access funded by Sociedade Brasileira de Farmacognosia
Under a Creative Commons license


This paper is the result of a visit by Brazilian researchers to Ghana, with the aim of improving understanding of the relationship between traditional healers and conventional health practices, specifically in relation to tuberculosis. Through this exploratory visit, this group of researchers promoted by the Edital Pro Africa (CNPq) had an opportunity to learn about, reflect on, and discuss the different social, economic and cultural realities and contexts that have led to the different health conditions and forms of healthcare in Ghana. Besides the direct relationship between the social and economic conditions of the country and the health of its population, it was also concluded that there is a clear distancing, in the Ghanaian reality, between the traditional healers and the conventional system, in terms of culture and modes of operation, each constituting isolated systems with little or no collaboration between them.The visit enabled us to see the difficulties involved in managing TB, including diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and co-infection with HIV. The majority of patients with TB only go to hospital after several attempts at self-medication, due to the non-specificity of the principal symptoms, and also to the trust in the traditional medicine. Initiatives to encourage research into medicinal plants in Ghana are seeking partnerships with developed countries, but not always with clear or secure national interests. For the traditional healers, there are high hopes that the information gathered by researchers from the local universities, on the plants and traditional methods they use, will result in affirmation and recognition of their practices, but they complain strongly that they receive no feedback on the research carried out.


  • Herbalists;
  • Healers;
  • Tuberculosis;
  • Traditional medicine;
  • Western medicine;
  • Ghana


In some parts of the world, particularly Africa, herbal remedies, in the context of so-called traditional medicine (TM), are often preferred over treatments recommended by cosmopolitan or western medicine (WM) (Abdullahi, 2011), sometimes because these treatments are easier to access, and lower in cost, and due to the perception that the treatment is harmless and is guaranteed to bring favorable results. The preference for traditional medicine may also be related to personal beliefs and ways of understanding the health-disease process that are culturally different from those of western medicine. According to this cultural framework, the therapeutic practices that use medicinal plants may also be associated with rituals, performed by practitioners who hold the knowledge necessary to affect the cure.
Seeking to carry out joint research and share experiences and knowledge, a group consisting of Brazilian pharmaceutical researchers (specializing in natural products, microbiology and pharmaceutical services) and postgraduate African students undertook an expedition to Ghana, in response to the Pro Africa 2011 public call for research (CNPq). This paper reports the main findings of this field trip, presenting elements for reflection and discussion on issues such as the relationship between traditional healers (herbalists, traditional healers, therapists) and western medicine, academia, and the general population.