A critical review of traditional medicine and traditional healer use for malaria and among people in malaria-endemic areas: contemporary research in low to middle-income Asia-Pacific countries

Malar J. 2015 Mar 1:14:98. doi: 10.1186/s12936-015-0593-7.


Background: Malaria is a leading health threat for low to middle-income countries and around 1.8 billion people in the Southeast Asian region and 870 million people in the Western Pacific region remain at risk of contracting malaria. Traditional medicine/traditional healer (TM/TH) use is prominent amongst populations in low- to middle-income countries and constitutes an important issue influencing and potentially challenging effective, safe and coordinated prevention and treatment strategies around malaria. This paper presents the first critical review of literature on the use of TM/TH for malaria prevention and treatment in low- to middle-income countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Methods: A comprehensive search of English language, peer-reviewed literature reporting TM and/or TH use for malaria or among people in malaria-endemic areas in low- to middle-income Asia-Pacific countries published between 2003 and 2014 was undertaken.

Results: Twenty-eight papers reporting 27 studies met the inclusion criteria. Prevalence of TM/TH use for malaria treatment ranged from 1 to 40.1%. A majority of studies conducted in rural/remote areas reported higher prevalence of TM/TH use than those conducted in mixed areas of urban, semi-urban, rural, and remote areas. Those utilizing TM/TH for malaria are more likely to be: women, people with lower educational attainment, people with lower household income, those with farming occupations, and those from ethnic minorities (identified from only three studies). The majority of adult participants delayed seeking treatment from a health centre or conventional providers while initially practicing TH use. The most common reasons for TM/TH use for malaria across the Asia-Pacific region are a lack of accessibility to conventional health services (due to geographical and financial barriers), faith in traditional treatment, and the perception of lower severity of malaria symptoms.

Conclusion: This review has provided crucial insights into the prevalence and profile of TM/TH use for malaria. Those managing and providing conventional programmes, treatment and care for malaria in the Asia-Pacific should remain mindful of the possible use of TM/TH amongst community members and patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asia
  • Developing Countries*
  • Humans
  • Malaria / parasitology
  • Malaria / prevention & control*
  • Medicine, Traditional* / statistics & numerical data
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Socioeconomic Factors