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Traditional medicine in Kenya: An overview

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), traditional medicine (™) is ‘sum total of the knowledge, skills and practices based on theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures, explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illnesses’.

‘Herbal medicines include herbs, herbal materials, herbal preparations and finished herbal products that contain an active ingredient, parts of plants or other plant materials or combinations of the same’.

Both modern and traditional medicine make a unique contribution to health. Traditional medicine has much to offer as a contribution to primary and universal coverage especially at a time when chronic non-communicable diseases have overtaken infectious diseases as the world’s biggest killer.

For millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa, traditional medicine is sometimes the main, sometimes the only source of health care due to its relative ease of access and low cost of the remedies and availability of herbal practitioners amongst indigenous populations and communities.
Despite the fact that herbal remedies are not to mainstreamed into the formal medical and regulatory infrastructures of most countries, where differences in traditional and modern approaches continue to challenge integration, its popularity as a second-recourse treatment in sub-Saharan Africa is particularly high, where 80% have reported its utilization with increasing level of satisfaction.

Global Trends
Still, emerging global trends indicate that there will eventually some convergence between the modern and traditional medicine. Because modern drugs take years to get through costly research and development programs and the fact that rising drug resistance renders several antibiotics ineffective, the mainstream medical fraternity is increasingly seeking new drugs from sources hitherto considered as purely traditional. The use of Traditional Medicine in Kenya is undoubtedly on the rise across all the demographics with specific regard to sexual and reproductive health, a traditional medicine niche in which we aim to consolidate our position as a market leader.

Consumption of traditional medicine in modern day Kenya
While traditional medicine was deployed to treat chronic illnesses before modern medical breakthroughs, the increasing popularity of traditional medicine for mild sexual and some serious reproductive health conditions for personal wellness among urban populations is driven by the effectiveness of herbal medical solutions for infertility, menstrual pain, low libido and erectile dysfunction for general wellness. Driven by perceptions about their relative safety (no known serious side effects), increased awareness about their effectiveness and the improved marketing and branding capabilities of modern practitioners, a pattern is emerging in which herbal medicines are now consumed for certain conditions and for general wellness, much like food supplements without first recourse to pharmaceutical products.

At the personal level, traditional medical solutions to the more serious conditions like infertility, abdominal pain and erectile dysfunction improve the psychological, emotional and physical wellness of hundreds of thousands, reduce incidents of stress and depression, save relationships, help individuals regain self-esteem and improve personal productivity.
Given that the growing acceptance of traditional medicine for a wide range of non-clinical conditions such as described above is yet to raise any serious public health concerns, it is likely that any regulatory interventions in the future will be driven by the need to make the public health benefit of traditional medicine available to even more Kenyans.

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