The efficacy of traditional medicine: current theoretical and methodological issues

Med Anthropol Q. 2000 Dec;14(4):603-25. doi: 10.1525/maq.2000.14.4.603.


The efficacy of traditional medicine is an issue that continues to vex medical anthropology. This article critically examines how the efficacy of traditional medicine has been conceived, operationalized, and studied and argues that a consensus remains elusive. Efficacy must be seen as fluid and shifting, the product of a negotiated, but not necessarily shared, understanding by those involved in the sickness episode, including physicians/healers, patients, and members of the community. Medical anthropology needs to return to the field to gather more data on indigenous understandings of efficacy to counteract the biases inherent in the utilization of biomedical understandings and methods characteristic of much previous work.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural*
  • Disease
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Sociology, Medical*
  • Treatment Outcome*