The Elites & Traditional Medicine

Sun, 7 May 2006 Source: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, in Accra, argues that Ghanaian elites should open up, go the Chinese way, and unwaveringly balance traditional and orthodox medicine in Ghana?s health system

It is not a nasty delight on the streets of Ghana/Africa to hear ordinary citizens say that their elites are ?not sensible enough,? ?stupid? and ?lack wisdom? in midwifing their progress. Ghanaians say in terms of their elites and progress that there is ?home sense? and there is ?school sense,? an indication that the elites, as directors of progress, lack wisdom and balance in driving progress. Sierra Leoneans will tell you in the same context that, ?it is sense that make book and not book that make sense.?

Two months ago, one Africa?s leading thinkers, Kenya?s Prof. Ali Mazrui, informed by failure of African elites in pushing for a realistic development process, in a demonstration of Africa?s new thinking in terms of her progress, said that African elites are ?mediocre.? What Mazrui meant was that for not thinking within African values first and any other second in Africa?s development process as the Japanese and the Chinese have done, African elites have become not only mediocre but also confused in the continent?s progress goals. Mediocrity has also occurred because Africa is the only region in the world which development paradigms are dominated by foreign development values to the detriment of the continent?s tried and tested rich indigenous values.

The idiocy of Ghanaian/African elites inability to mix their rich cultural values with their colonial legacies in their development process, as the Malaysians, Brazilians, Japanese, South Koreans and Chinese have done, was revealed when Ghana?s thoughtful Minister of Health, Courage Quashigah, part of the emerging new generation of Ghanaian thinkers, stated the distress that try as his ministry has tried to ?incorporate psychic and traditional healers into the mainstream of health delivery? in Ghana?s orthodox health system, the country?s elites have deliberately sabotaged the ministry?s attempts. From South America to China to Japan, elites, driven more by wisdom, a key element in progress, have skillfully been able to integrate some of their indigenous cultural practices ?like the divine methods used in healing and the use of herbs to cure serious sicknesses? into majority of their health care system. There is urgent need for Ghanaian/African health officials to go the Chinese way and mix the traditional with the orthodox informed by the fact that in Africa, up to 80 percent of the population uses traditional medicine for primary health care.

The inability of Quashigah and his ministry to mix Ghanaian traditional medicine with the orthodox ones is that Ghanaian elites still think Ghanaian values, which has sustained Ghanaians and their ancestors since time immemorial, is inferior because their education system, which was imposed on them, tells them it is so. Almost 50 years after independence from British colonial rule, Ghana?s education system, like the rest of Africa, is still heavily Eurocentric against the need for heavy Ghanaian/African values centredness in the country?s education system. It is in this state of mediocrity, as Mazrui would say, in terms of Ghanaian elites? inability to see the immense wisdom in integrating their indigenous medicine with the Western imposed ones that the Ghanaian health scene, like the rest of Africa, is in a confusing state, worsened by terrible sanitation practices that has made the Ghanaian life shorter.

From health policy-makers to Western trained health officials, Ghanaian indigenous medicine and ordinary Ghanaians, who have the street-sense to juggle the two systems in their health delivery practices in their everyday life, health policy development do not take into consideration the history, the interest, the cultural values, and the experiences of Ghanaians. Let Dr. Agyeman Badu Akosah, head of the Ghana Health Services, and his medical associates, with their exaggerated image and high-sounding rhetoric, tell Ghanaians whether in developing their health policies they consult ?socio-economic conditions of the typical village practitioner, their belief systems and how that affects practise orientation; and perceptions as to whether traditional medicine could be taught and practised as part of the formal health care sector.?

This is not only unhelpful in Ghana?s progress but smack of elites who lack wisdom and are not insightful enough, are unrealistic and cannot think well in the grand development game of their country. No doubt, Quashigah said the elites see their own indigenous medicine, which has been hailed globally as ?good,? as ?evil.? In this regard, the entire Ghanaian health system environment does not reflect the true Ghana medicine: it demeans Ghanaians rich indigenous medicine by failing to bring the traditional on board the orthodox in the grand health fixture as the Chinese, the Latinos and Japanese have done. The Chinese, who rank first in the world in the export of traditional medicine, have been able to develop their traditional medicine at the rate of around 17 to 18 percent, with a total output of around US$10 billion in 2005. The Chinese exported US$700 million traditional medicine last year.

The challenge for Dr. Agyeman Badu Akosah and his cohorts is how to bring Quashigah and associates on board their health match, demonstrate high creativity informed by their global exposure, go the Chinese way, and hammer traditional medicine into mainstream Ghanaian healthcare. Ghanaians have the right to this new healthcare thinking.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi