Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

Traditional medicine must be documented

The call for African law to protect traditional medicine is a good one (see 'African law' needed to protect traditional medicine). But the knowledge behind this form of healthcare must first be documented.

Written documents are lacking and where records do exist, they are often damaged and incomplete. Also, some lists of ingredients for medicines are written in code, so are not easily understood. The 'ice' on these secret formulas will need to be broken.

Documenting and verifying this knowledge will require collaboration between Africa's modern and traditional medical practitioners, so they can develop a framework for deciding which herbal medicines are valid. Indeed, traditional healers should be included in mainstream healthcare so their ingenuity is properly used and appreciated.

Most practitioners of traditional medicine acquired their knowledge through rote learning, and have not completed any formal training. There needs to be some sort of education scheme so that they can fully contribute to mainstream medicine.