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, 3 (5), e000895

Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review


Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review

Peter Bai James et al. BMJ Glob Health.


Background: The WHO estimates that a considerable number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rely on traditional, complementary and alternative medicine (TCAM) to meet their primary healthcare needs, yet there remains a dearth of research evidence on the overall picture of TCAM utilisation in the region.

Methods: We conducted a literature search of original articles examining TCAM use in SSA between 1 January 2006 and 28 February 2017, employing Medline, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Allied and Complementary Medicine Database, Scopus, ProQuest, PubMed, Embase and African Journals Online databases. A critical appraisal of relevant articles reporting a quantitative or mixed-method design was undertaken.

Results: Despite the heterogeneity and general low quality of the identified literature, the review highlights a relatively high use of TCAM alone or in combination with orthodox medicine, in both general population and in specific health conditions in SSA. TCAM users compared with non-TCAM users are more likely to be of low socioeconomic and educational status, while there were inconsistencies in age, sex, spatial location and religious affiliation between TCAM users and non-TCAM users. Most TCAM users (55.8%-100%) in SSA fail to disclose TCAM use to their healthcare providers, with the main reasons for non-disclosure being fear of receiving improper care, healthcare providers' negative attitude and a lack of enquiry about TCAM use from healthcare providers.

Conclusion: TCAM use in SSA is significant, although most studies emerge from a few countries. Factors associated with TCAM use in SSA are similar to those observed in other regions, but further research may be required to further elucidate challenges and opportunities related to TCAM use specific to SSA.

Keywords: Health System; Integrative Medicine; Sub-Saharan Africa; complementary therapies; systematic review; traditional medicine.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: None declared.


Figure 1
Figure 1
PRISMA flow diagram of included and excluded articles. AMED, Allied and Complementary Medicine Database; CINAHL, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature.

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