Licensed to Heal- May 31st, 2012

4 06 2012

By Kelly Andrejko

My formal introduction to traditional medicine here in Lome occurred this week at a market close to my host family’s house. I had been to this market several times before with my host mom to procure supplies for dinner, but never had I noticed anything which appeared overtly medical. However, with the help of Professor Piot’s assistant here in Lome- Fidele- four separate stands selling plants used for healing or processed herbal remedies were identified within less than a city block. Three of the stands were more obvious- they had heaps and heaps of different kinds of plants for sale, and those running the stand could quickly identify which ones were for malaria (most of them), for intestinal worms, and for low energy. The last stand was selling food, but Fidele quietly pointed out a large basket behind the table, filled to the brim with what look to me like lots of bark and ground leaves in small vials. These processed mixtures claimed to cure maladies including infertility and menstrual cramps, yet it was hard to identify exactly what they were. Due to their inconspicuous location and poor labeling, it appeared as if they were catering to a different audience of consumers.

From the market, we went to a different part of the city where a number of traditional healers had set up shop permanently.  Lucky for me, the lady in the first shop we entered was incredibly nice and willing to sit down and talk with Fidele and me about her practice. Although Togolese, she was formally educated at the university of Benin for three years, studying methods of traditional medicine.  She proudly showed us her diplomas and explained how even with the formal education, the government here in Togo did not recognize her practice as official. Around the shop there appeared to be at least a hundred glass bottles with mixtures of different herbs, clearly labeled for a variety of maladies. The sheer number of concoctions was incredible! The healer explained she personally gathered all of the plants from trips around Togo, and then washed, chopped, dried and mixed everything very carefully herself. When asked if she ever used biomedical medicine, she emphasized that she preferred not to, as she wouldn’t sell things she wouldn’t use herself.

These two venues for traditional medicine- the market and the shop- will be interesting to keep in mind as I start my interviews with local residents this weekend. From preliminary conversations,  I have begun to hypothesize that no matter social class, education, profession, religion- you name it- everyone here in Lome seems to utilize the traditional healthcare system. However it appears as if the extent to which they use it varies- while some only use the plants you buy at the market occasionally, others seek out the healers, such as the woman mentioned above, on a more regular basis. In the coming weeks, I hope to find out more about what causes this difference in usage within the urban population.

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