Current ethical and other problems in the practice of African traditional medicine

Med Law. 2003;22(1):29-38.


Medicine in Africa is regarded as possessing its own "life force", not just using a system of prescribing. This is because health problems are not only attributed to pathological explanations alone, but also to other "forces". Hence, traditional healers utter incantations to take care of negative forces which militate against achieving cure. Treatment in African traditional medicine (ATM) is holistic. It seeks to strike a balance between the patients' body, soul and spirit. The problems arise from the infiltration of charlatans into the field, the practice of using mystical explanations for ill-health, and inadequate knowledge of the properties and clinical use of herbal remedies. Despite its problems, ATM can work in parallel with orthodox medicine using its strengths rather than its weaknesses. ATM has to be applied within a uniform ethical system. Practitioners of ATM must follow the principles of autonomy and confidentiality.

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Attitude to Health
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics
  • Delivery of Health Care / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Medicine, African Traditional*
  • Mysticism