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Traditional medicine in Bolivia

8th September 2008

Western doctors and local medical practitioners in Bolivia are 'willing to cooperate', a new study has found.

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Increased synergy between the two systems has come on the back of a growing interest in ethnomedicine in recent decades.

Much of the research on traditional healing practices has focused on emphasising the divide between them and Western medicine, or on how elements of traditional medicine can be used to enhance Western medicine.

But the study suggests that a greater level of merging of concepts and practices between the two systems could have long-term benefits for public health.

The team from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the University of Georgia in the United States used participant observation and semi-structured interviews to gather background observation, as well as surveys measuring different medical concepts between Western doctors and an indigenous Amazonian group called the Tsimane', in Bolivia.

Surveys were also designed to assess the extent to which the Tsimane' practitioners incorporated Western medicine into their lists of concepts: the result was barely at all. However, they did incorporate Western methods into their daily healing practices.

They found that the Tsimane' people were likely to first seek out the help of traditional healers if they fell ill, only turning to Western doctors as a second resort, or in cases of severe illness.

Local healers were of the opinion that tuberculosis needed Western medical attention, whereas they preferred to treat illnesses like diarrhoea with remedies based on local plant resources.

Their world view was also affected by their beliefs in magical factors as a cause of some diseases.

But the team found a willingness between the two systems to cooperate. Both Tsimane' healers and Western doctors expressed the desire to promote synergy between the two systems.

The findings, published by lead author Laura Calvet-Mir and colleagues in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, contrasted with previous research emphasising the divide between local medical practitioners and Western doctors.

The study suggests that further cooperation between the two systems might be possible in future public health interventions.

 

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