Traditional Medicine vs Science-Based Medicine

In Sierra Leone, there is no village without a herbalist but there are villages without clinics.

Traditional or ‘Country’ medicine is an alternative medical discipline, deep-seated in Sierra Leonean culture and one existed long before the establishment of science based medicine in West Africa.

A combination of literacy rate; with only 58.7 per cent of men and 37.7 per cent of women being literate, and the country’s population demographic; 60 per cent of Sierra Leoneans live in rural areas, result in traditional medicine being resorted to for both convenience and cultural purposes.

Here, death and disease are alleged to be a culmination of natural and metaphysical causes. Metaphysical being the spiritual realm comprising of witchcraft, ancestral spirits, taboos and punishments from God. People have the belief that the bark, leaves and roots from trees and plants, are medicinal and can cure the most complex of illnesses. These remedies are prescribed by a traditional healer or herbalist who has inherited their knowledge from elder generations in rural areas where education was absent.

This follows trait to the literacy rate of Sierra Leone, consequential to a lack of understanding of hospital or science-based medicine, which many people believe cure metaphysical illnesses. Furthermore, there is an assumption by outsiders that traditional medicine is cheaper and more cost effective for patients, however this is not the case.

With vast areas of land and poor roads, many Sierra Leoneans must travel far distances on foot to reach our facility. Magbenteh Community Hospital is the first hospital for the surrounding villages, making our relationship with local communities even more vital.

A consideration of traditional and religious practices is critical when understanding the transmission of both highly infectious diseases as well as the most basic and treatable sickness such as malaria or broken bones. Our doctors and Community Health Officers at Magbenteh Community Hospital are therefore encouraged to be sensitive and culturally aware of all patients’ backgrounds and prior treatments, due to the conflict existing between traditional beliefs and science based medical assistance.

This can sometimes create difficulties due to the severity of cases we receive, when communities bring patients to us who should have been admitted long before their admittance. Our medical team strongly advise against the use of traditional medicine and to trust in science based medicine for a full and healthy recovery. Recent cases include meningitis, paralysis, abscesses and gastric ulcers.

Magbenteh Community Hospital continues to work alongside the elders and communities in which it serves to support the health system of Sierra Leone.