In rural Uganda, the coverage with practitioners of Western medicine is very low. One doctor serves about 250’000 people in Mpigi District. On the other hand there is about one traditional healer per 187 people. Traditional healers are thus important providers of basic health services and treatments for the communities. PROMETRA Uganda is a local NGO working together with traditional healers to increase acceptance of traditional medicine. PROMETRA operates a forest school in Mpigi where traditional healers are trained on sustainable cultivation, improved formulations and hygienic processing of herbal medicines. One of Biovision’s partner organizations, icipe (International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology) in Nairobi, is working together with PROMETRA to test the efficacy of herbal medicine and to develop products for income generation.
What does your curriculum look like?
The forest school curriculum is divided into 3 years: The first year of the curriculum is dedicated to the study, identification, cultivation and preparation of 320 medicinal plants, as well as environmental conservation topics. In the second year the trainees study human anatomy and learn how to identify 40 common diseases such as diarrhea, different tropical fevers, infections and how to treat them with herbal medicine. They also learn to identify severe cases and how to refer patients to hospitals for further testing, for example in the case of cancer or HIV/Aids testing. In the third year the healers specialize into different areas such as herbal medicine, traditional birth attendance or bone setting.
Who attends the courses?
Traditional healers from different fields, health care volunteers from the local communities and university students from Kampala, international interns and some visitors from overseas who are interested in our activities. Apart from the forest school we operate a community clinic where we provide free treatment. Sick people first come to the clinic and then become interested in our training activities and join the forest school. We have a lot of mothers with sick children who get interested in learning about traditional health care in order to treat their own children when they are sick. Now we are also getting children of the traditional healers because they become interested in what their parents are doing.
Which impact does the knowledge you teach have in the daily life of the people who attend the courses?
The people who have been attending the courses report that the knowledge they gained has improved their life in different way. Mothers say that they are now able to treat themselves as well as their children with herbal medicine they have produced in their gardens, for example with cough medicine or herbal fever treatment. Their families are healthier and they say that they are now not going to the hospital at all anymore, only for severe cases. This has improved their health situation and also has economic benefits as they save money by spending less money on hospital visits.
How does the knowledge reduce the threats to biodiversity?
Much of the material that we use in healing is derived from the diversity of the forest. In the forest school we teach good methods of harvesting, e.g. not to destroy the trees when you take some of their sap for a medicine. This is why we now focus on the domestication of plants used in herbal medicine to reduce the pressure on the forest. We teach people how to plant their own herbal garden so that they can produce more herbal medicine without destroying the forest. Now we know the value of the biodiversity in our forests and we value and respect the forest for what it provides us and we have to help to conserve this.