The Influence of Nigerian Traditional Medicine on Modern Healthcare Practices

Nigerian traditional medicine
Written by Robin Okwanma

Everywhere across the globe, traditional medicine has been practiced for millenia and refused to be swept aside. In fact, the use of, and influence of Nigerian traditional medicine is widespread. Its influence is profound both amongst the educated and illiterate citizens in many parts of Nigeria.

Nigerian traditional medicine

This is because across Africa, Asia, and South America, traditional medicine, from experience, was found to be quite effective in treating ailments that defied clinical diagnosis, or are stubborn to cure. Modern medical researchers and practitioners, though, often maintain that there is little or no verifiable proof backing the effectiveness of many traditional medicines. 

Nevertheless, a great deal of natural ingredients used in traditional medicine have undergone laboratory tests over the years. And the outcomes have often revealed the shocking truth. That the knowledge of traditional herbal practitioners concerning the power of active ingredients in these medicines are often quite accurate (though not in every case). 

Above all, herbal medicine is cheaper to obtain. What remains a critical issue is how to test and certify herbal remedies provided by genuine herbal practitioners, and separate them from bogus claims. 

Traditional Medicine: An Overview

Traditional medicine has a number of different appellations. They include alternative medicine, native medicine, and herbal medicine. 

Wikipedia describes traditional medicine as “medical aspects of traditional knowledge that developed over generations within the folk beliefs of various societies, including indigenous peoples, before the era of modern medicine.” 

The World Health Organization (WHO) on its part, defines traditional medicine as “the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures, whether explicable or not, used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness“.

It means right from the dawn of mankind, human beings have experimented with several plants and substances sourced from Nature, and have discovered those with specific healing benefits. Additionally, the knowledge and practices of traditional medicine were passed down the generations. A good lot of them survived years of repeated usage. While it appears some others may have been lost in the course of time. 

Native societies also used two methods of ensuring continuity in the practice of traditional medicine. It could be passed down the family line. Or it is handled as a vocational training, carefully delivered to the trainee by an experienced herbalist. Both methods silently ran in parallel, and even persisted over the years in the face of scrutiny by modern medical researchers.

Traditional Medicine Vs Modern Medicine

The experimental nature of traditional medicine gradually gave way to the careful empirical tests, fact-gathering and analysis of modern scientific methods. And with continuous advances in education, technology and medicine, it became a standard to measure the effectiveness of a drug by putting it through laboratory analysis. 

That does not entirely discredit the efficacy of traditional medicine. Rather, it provided the avenue to prove their usefulness. Thereby separating the tested and effective natural remedies from those with unreliable claims. But more often than not, the experience and results gotten from patients who have used traditional medicine with success continue to strengthen its usage.

The Indonesia International Institute for Life sciences in its online article “Traditional Medicine Vs Modern Medicine” gives a clear distinction between traditional medical systems and modern medical systems as follows. 

Modern medicine views disease only as a biological condition characterized by abnormalities in the function or structure of certain organs or entire organ systems. While alternative medicine or traditional medicine considers disease more than meets the eyes, besides being biological, they also involve certain aspects like spiritual, psychological, and certain social aspects of the affected person. This is something that modern medicine often ignores“. 

Thus traditional medicine can be far-reaching and holistic both in preventing and curing many illnesses – tackling the root cause of such ailments, not just the symptoms. And it takes the spiritual, emotional and psychological sources of disease very seriously, unlike modern medicine. 

Yet again in another online article titled “The Persistence of Traditional Medicine in the Modern world“, the authors stated as follows:

Urban living in particular creates conditions that hatch those stress-related diseases often most effectively treated by traditional practitioners, such as gastric and duodenal ulcers, migraines, dermatitis, limb pains and certain kinds of paralysis and hypertension. Thus, in some cases at least, traditional medicine tends to thrive in conjunction with Westernization, modernization and urbanization, as in the case of countries such as Ghana and Nigeria.” 

(Young, Grant & Ingelise: 12-1 Health and Healing, Cultural Survival, 2020). 

In essence, the users of Nigerian traditional medicine, and traditional medicine elsewhere across the globe, have gone far beyond the rural dwellings. Out of necessity, people in urban and suburban areas observed the extended lifespan of many rural dwellers who persisted in using traditional medicine.

Many rural dwellers with little or no access to modern healthcare continue to resort to traditional medicine. In fact, some people exclusively trust, and vouch for traditional medicine – refusing to accept modern medicine.

For childbirth, chronic health disorders, illnesses that could not be satisfactorily treated in modern hospitals, psychological and nervous disorders, and preventive medicine. So long as traditional medicine came through time and again to the rescue, such persons would rather forgo modern medicine.

Not only that, traditional medicine in many cases is cheaper compared to modern medicine. Thus the movement to adopt tried and tested traditional medicine has long shifted to urban centers.

The major shortcomings of adopting traditional medicine though, remains as follows. 

  • Firstly, in measuring the right dosage of a herbal drug deemed safe for usage by patients. This would help patients predict and avoid unwanted side effects (such as allergic reactions).
  • Secondly, some of these traditional medicines are prepared in septic or strictly unhygienic environments. There are strong chances of contamination and subsequent infection while handling these traditional remedies. In the quest to cure one ailment (God forbid), another one may creep in due to unhygienic handling of the drug. 

Modern Trends in the Practice of Nigerian Traditional Medicine

There are now trained medical practitioners in Nigeria (and worldwide) who have taken up the study and propagation of traditional medicine. It goes without saying that these traditional remedies are made to pass through careful tests. Such medical experts thereafter seek the approval of supervisory food and drug agencies, armed with proofs from their laboratory tests. 

And now we have standardized and well-packaged herbal remedies everywhere. From the locally-produced Nigerian traditional medicine to the imported ones from trusted international healthcare brands. 

In Conclusion: Nigerian Traditional Medicine and Modern Medicine Must Exist Side by Side

It is clear from the foregoing that modern medicine has provided the means through which traditional medicine can be proven by scientific analysis. On the other hand, modern medicine often guarantees a more hygienic, regulated, carefully measured and safer environment than the traditional setting. 

Therefore it is very critical to allow the coexistence of Nigerian traditional medicine and modern medicine. For whatever ailment modern medicine is limited in handling, there are a good number of traditional medicine sources to effectively cure it. Or at least reduce the symptoms to the barest minimum that would ensure optimum well-being of the patient. 

There is also a need to bring affordable healthcare to the masses, through a wide variety of tested and approved traditional medicine. That would more likely reduce dependency on the more expensive, and often less effective pharmaceutical drugs. The imported international brands may or may not be affordable for all. But at least the approved local traditional medicine should be within the reach and budget of Nigerian citizens.  



You may not republish, reproduce, or redistribute any content on this website either in whole or in part without due permission or acknowledgment.
Proper acknowledgment includes, but not limited to;

(a) LINK BACK TO THE ARTICLE in the case of re-publication on online media,

(b) Proper referencing in the case of usage in research, magazine, brochure, or academic purposes,.
All contents are protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1996 (DMCA).

The images, except where otherwise indicated, are taken directly from the web, if some images were inserted by mistake violating the copyright, please contact the administrator for immediate removal.

We publish all content with good intentions. If you own this content & believe your copyright was violated or infringed, please contact us at [] for immediate removal.

About the author

Robin Okwanma

Hi, I'm Robin Okwanma. Software Engineer || Django, Python || React, React Native || Blogger. Technical Writer.