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Ghana Website

Ghana Website

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Published by Reena Roy

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Published by: Reena Roy on Mar 12, 2013
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03/12/2013

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By Reena RoyACCRA, Ghana-Vida Slater, 40, spends her days at Timber Market, in the medicine section,surrounded by buffalo hide, snakeskin, dog skulls, dehydrated monkey brains, and bushels of herbs. At her small wooden stand, she moves swiftly with authority, arrangingand rearranging her products in the same methodology she’s employed for 25 years. As acustomer describes his wife’s high fever, incessant vomiting, and joint pain, she simplynods while quickly grabbing, as if by muscle memory, various leaves and sticks meant tocure malaria. Her mother, sitting nearby, oversees the transactions and gossips with passersby.
Forgenerations,Slater'sfamilyhasproducedmanyherbalistswitharesolutebeliefintheirmedicinalpractice.
“Some people don’t believe in herbal healing and it’s very bad. Before Westernmedicine came about, we had this. It’s their opinion and in life everyone is entitled towhat he or she believes, but it’s very wrong. Tradition must always go on,” Slater said asshe fingered a thunderstone, a spiritual rock that ‘falls from the sky from God’.In 2009, 71% of Ghanaians utilized herbal medicine, according to a studyconducted by the Ministry of Health. This can be attributed to roughly half the populationliving without access to modern medicine. Because there are only about 2,000 doctors toserve 24 million people, Ghanaian government and healthcare officials are piloting theimplementation of trained herbalists in hospitals. Their main goal is to preserve andregulate this use of indigenous knowledge by using World Health Organization as thesource for global policies, and China and India as inspiration, both of which have
 
successfully supervised the administration of herbs.“The use of herbal medicines at our research centers for clinical evaluation has proved to be successful by and large. We expect it to work,” said Peter Arhin, director of traditional and alternative medicine at the Ministry of Health.Slater, despite her adherence to tradition, is not against the integration; she believes it protects people from the harms of orthodox medicine. “It’s good if we work hand in hand. Western medicine becomes drug abuse. People become addicted, and itwon’t work anymore, so when that happens, you refer them to an herbalist,” she said.Yet many believe the opposite: herbal medicine can be dangerous due tountrained, unregulated herbalists such as Slater. “We don’t know the active ingredient,we don’t know any side effects, or dosages. It makes it difficult for us to prescribe,” saidObeng Apori, a medical doctor in the public sector.Ivy Deku, 33, a member of a Christian women fellowship group, agreed. “Iwouldn’t go to a herbal healer, even if she was Christian, because I don’t know what is init. If I want to use herbal medicine, I will find out what herbs they use, and cook itmyself. I will go to an herbal hospital, but I will not go to others. Christians who go toherbal healers who use spirituality are not believers,” she said while shaking her head atthe thought. Not all herbalists use spirituality, but because the majority do, Deku regardsthem with suspicion.Deku, in the popular manner of most Christians, is against spiritual herbalistswho often utilize sacrificing rituals, summoning of spirits, and various animal or human parts. Though Christians appreciate the medicinal benefits of herbs, they often consider the spiritual methods to be satanic. “Why should somebody bring a chicken, slaughter it,
 
throw it into the air, and depending on how it lands tell u your sickness? No Christianwill buy that,” said Apori. “If we push those healers away and we don’t control them, weare causing more harm.”Although traditional medicine has been around as long as Ghanaians have, saidKodjo Senah, professor of sociology at University of Ghana, colonialism drasticallychanged its reputation. “Oftentimes many people who go to healers don’t want to be seenthere. If Christians go there, they want to hide it from their pastor because fromcolonialism we’ve been instructed to believe that traditional healing is demonic,” saidSenah, whose father left Christianity to become an herbalist. “Europeans have called our healthcare system a fetish medicine, but that word comes from the Portuguese wordfalsificação meaning fake.”
The Mampong Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology exist to help dispel these negativeconnotations. The Mampong Centre researches and collects factual data about plantswhile KNUST offers a four-year bachelor’s degree in herbal medicine leaving no roomfor sketchiness, confusion, or suspicion.“I prefer herbal medicine. Time is changing; they’ve improved. They’ve goneto school,” said Eric Mweya, a businessman in mining, while buying diabetes medicine ata small herbal shop that receives more business than the chemists across the dirt road. Ashe examined the various labeled bottles arranged neatly on wooden shelves, Mweya, 43,explained that like the Chinese, Ghana has begun to modernize and govern theadministration of herbal medicine.Some, however, hope to see the aspects of traditional healing that Christians

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