The role of traditional medicine in modern medicine

By Olorato Seutloadi

Across cultures and nations, people have turned to traditional medicine, relying on home remedies, traditional healers and historical medical knowledge/practices. While some view traditional medicine as outdated, it plays a significant role in modern healthcare. Researchers often build on this ancient wisdom to make groundbreaking discoveries. South Africa, for instance, sees around 72% of its Black African population using traditional medicine. 

The trade in medicinal plant materials is substantial, valued at millions annually. The use of traditional medicine is driven by factors like affordability, accessibility, patient dissatisfaction with conventional medicine and misconceptions about “natural” equating to “safe”. To address these growing trends, The World Health Organisation organised the first global summit on traditional medicine in 2023. South Africa’s reliance on traditional medicine challenges its healthcare infrastructure, leading to increased morbidity and mortality rates. However, integrating traditional medicine into modern healthcare system couls capitalise on indigenous knowledge, broaden treatment options and enhance patient care.

The challenge lies in the absence of scientific studies and regulatory oversight to establish the safety and efficacy of traditional medicines. 

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