Background: Diabetes is a growing burden in sub-Saharan Africa where traditional medicines (TMs) remain a primary form of healthcare in many settings. In Tanzania, TMs are frequently used to treat non-communicable diseases, yet little is known about TM practices for non-communicable diseases like diabetes.
Methods: Between December 2013 and June 2014, we assessed TM practices, including types, frequencies, reasons, and modes, among randomly selected community members. To further characterize TMs relevant for the local treatment of diabetes, we also conducted focus groups and semi-structured interviews with key informants.
Results: We enrolled 481 adults of whom 45 (9.4 %) had diabetes. The prevalence of TM use among individuals with diabetes was 77.1 % (95 % CI 58.5-89.0 %), and the prevalence of using TMs and biomedicines concurrently was 37.6 % (95 % CI 20.5-58.4 %). Many were using TMs specifically to treat diabetes (40.3 %; 95 % CI 20.5-63.9), and individuals with diabetes reported seeking healthcare from traditional healers, elders, family, friends, and herbal vendors. We identified several plant-based TMs used toward diabetes care: Moringa oleifera, Cymbopogon citrullus, Hagenia abyssinica, Aloe vera, Clausena anisata, Cajanus cajan, Artimisia afra, and Persea americana.
Conclusions: TMs were commonly used for diabetes care in northern Tanzania. Individuals with diabetes sought healthcare advice from many sources, and several individuals used TMs and biomedicines together. The TMs commonly used by individuals with diabetes in northern Tanzania have a wide range of effects, and understanding them will more effectively shape biomedical practitices and public health policies that are patient-centered and sensitive to TM preferences.
Keywords: Biomedicine; Low- and middle-income countries; Non-communicable diseases; Sub-Saharan Africa; Traditional medicine.