By Reena Roy ACCRA, GhanaVida 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, arranging and rearranging her products in the same methodology she’s employed for 25 years. As a customer describes his wife’s high fever, incessant vomiting, and joint pain, she simply nods while quickly grabbing, as if by muscle memory, various leaves and sticks meant to cure 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 Western medicine came about, we had this. It’s their opinion and in life everyone is entitled to what he or she believes, but it’s very wrong. Tradition must always go on,” Slater said as she fingered a thunderstone, a spiritual rock that ‘falls from the sky from God’. In 2009, 71% of Ghanaians utilized herbal medicine, according to a study conducted by the Ministry of Health. This can be attributed to roughly half the population living without access to modern medicine. Because there are only about 2,000 doctors to serve 24 million people, Ghanaian government and healthcare officials are piloting the implementation of trained herbalists in hospitals. Their main goal is to preserve and regulate this use of indigenous knowledge by using World Health Organization as the source 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 it won’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 to untrained, 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,” said Obeng Apori, a medical doctor in the public sector. Ivy Deku, 33, a member of a Christian women fellowship group, agreed. “I wouldn’t go to a herbal healer, even if she was Christian, because I don’t know what is in it. If I want to use herbal medicine, I will find out what herbs they use, and cook it myself. I will go to an herbal hospital, but I will not go to others. Christians who go to herbal healers who use spirituality are not believers,” she said while shaking her head at the thought. Not all herbalists use spirituality, but because the majority do, Deku regards them with suspicion. Deku, in the popular manner of most Christians, is against spiritual herbalists who 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 Christian will buy that,” said Apori. “If we push those healers away and we don’t control them, we are causing more harm.” Although traditional medicine has been around as long as Ghanaians have, said Kodjo Senah, professor of sociology at University of Ghana, colonialism drastically changed its reputation. “Oftentimes many people who go to healers don’t want to be seen there. If Christians go there, they want to hide it from their pastor because from colonialism we’ve been instructed to believe that traditional healing is demonic,” said Senah, whose father left Christianity to become an herbalist. “Europeans have called our healthcare system a fetish medicine, but that word comes from the Portuguese word falsificação meaning fake.”   The Mampong Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology exist to help dispel these negative connotations. The Mampong Centre researches and collects factual data about plants while KNUST offers a four-year bachelor’s degree in herbal medicine leaving no room for sketchiness, confusion, or suspicion. “I prefer herbal medicine. Time is changing; they’ve improved. They’ve gone to school,” said Eric Mweya, a businessman in mining, while buying diabetes medicine at a small herbal shop that receives more business than the chemists across the dirt road. As he examined the various labeled bottles arranged neatly on wooden shelves, Mweya, 43, explained that like the Chinese, Ghana has begun to modernize and govern the administration of herbal medicine. Some, however, hope to see the aspects of traditional healing that Christians

consider taboo in mainstream healthcare. “I’ve just visited some countries that are trying to use animal parts in hospitals. I’ve eaten a small, dried scorpion that’s good for the brain and used as a herb,” said Ahrin, who predicts animal medicine to make its way into Ghanaian hospitals once they understand its chemical uses. “Whether we use animals or not, it will not relate to the metaphysical, only material science,” he stated to clarify that animal spirituality is not suitable for hospitals. Sheikh Mohammed Mutawakily Idrissu, a Muslim sufi or mystic, believes otherwise. For about 10 generations, Idrissu’s family has practiced Muslim spiritualism from their home, which includes herbs, witchcraft, numerology, and astrology. They often sacrifice animals—a goat if Saturday, a fowl if Monday—prepare herbal concoctions, palm read, interpret dreams, or burn incense while chanting verses from the Koran. Each of the 114 chapters correlates to a specific problem; Chapter 92 is used for nightmares, thus he chants it a certain number of times depending on one’s name. Though a devout Muslim, Idrissu accepts people of any race or religion: some of his patients are pastors, who believe in his work and appreciate the results. Closing his eyes and fiddling with zikir, or spiritual beads, he said authoritatively, “Sometimes you need those who know how the celestial bodies work, who know what the stars are harboring for us to explain to you, to relate to you. You cannot run away from that because we’re all under the cosmos. Herbalists, spiritualists, and doctors should work together in a very big hospital so that they combine to help human beings. Indonesia and Malaysia use spiritual healers in hospitals who work with medical doctors and even with government.” Although he’d like a hospital office for his

spiritual diagnoses, he would not summon spirits or sacrifice animals in the vicinity so as to protect other patients. Currently, however, the only integration possible is that of medical doctors and trained herbalists. And even that is still awaiting success, which will be announced later this year. Perhaps a favorable outcome will later prompt officials to consider animal medicine and spiritual healing.  

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