“In all Black Africa, we notice progressive disappearance of traditional healers and the degradation of their knowledge. This is all the more reason to consider as pressing and essential task the study and revalorization of traditional medicine in our countries. This rehabilitation cannot be made without the regulations of their practice in a legal frame work.”
The statement was made last August by Erick V.A. Gbodossou, MD (pictured), the founder and president of PROMETRA International. Gbodossou is also a traditional healer from the Hwula tribe in present-day Benin. He was responding to news that the World Health Organization’s 15TH annual African Traditional Medicine Day would be dedicated to the “regulation of traditional practitioners in the African region.” PROMETRA is a non-governmental organization dedicated to the preservation of “African traditional medicine, culture and indigenous science.”
With origins dating back to 1971, the organization presently has chapters in 27 nations led by “bi-world” leaders trained in both systems of western and traditional medicine. Throughout the past decade, PROMETRA International has trained over 18,000 traditional healers as what it calls “Information, Education and Communication (IEC) agents.” The organization does this through a scientifically-based, culturally appropriated train the trainer program, FAPEG. PROMETRA is one of the longest surviving, sustainable NGOs on the continent of Africa. It has been a grantee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, UNDP, European Union and other international funders.
In the United States, activity is led by long-time global health leader Virginia Floyd, MD, MPH (pictured, below). A special projects leader for Morehouse School of Medicine, Floyd also sits on the board of the Andrew Young Foundation and the National March of Dimes. The Global Integrator Blog recently connected with Floyd. She’d recently returned from Benin where she’d coordinated an educational exchange and tour on traditional medicine themes and had just helped send off the 20-person group. Included were 3 professionals from the Cleveland Clinic with a particular interest in Sufi wound healing. Another was a second-year resident in the integrative family medicine residency developed through the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine founded by Andrew Weil, MD. The multidisciplinary nature of the work is evident through the backgrounds of the others: 2 engineers, an architect, 2 other medical doctors, a Reiki master, a naturopath, a farmer, a physician’s assistant, and a nurse practitioner. The tour and medical exchange was set to overlap with the day that the system of Voodoo is annually recognized in that nation, January 10.
Floyd has helped facilitate multiple USA relationships for PROMETRA to explore the science of traditional medicines. (See, here in the Global Integrator Blog, Ebola, Ambassador Andrew Young, and the Potential Role of Native African Medicine.) Her own passions run to traditional Voodoo practice and the entire system of traditional knowledge.
Gbodossou provides a flavor here of the reason for reaching back into tradition even as relationships are developed to research natural products: “It is necessary to remind us that the Cartesian system does not know life, and has nothing to measure love, emotion or intuition! This modern system is incapable to individually solve many health problems.” In setting the Morehouse-PROMETRA relationship, the parties chose to create a “basis” for mutual understanding by distinguishing between “knowledge” of Cartesian/Western medicine and the “knowing” of traditional healers. Behind the work is a profound sense of mission. Gbodossou articulates: “If it is recognized by all that HEALTH IS THE BASE AND FOUNDATION OF ANY DEVELOPMENT then it is painful to notice that the development of the Africa region is almost exclusively in exogenous hands.” [capitals in the original]
Comment: Much of the interest of conventional medical stakeholders in traditional medicines—when it exists—is limited to a drug framework. The focus is on the seemingly low-hanging fruit of natural medicines, often with the intent to synthesize them if value is found. They miss the forest for the fruits. The power of PROMETRA’s work, under Gbodossou’s leadership, is in sustaining and reclaiming the broadest value of the traditions—and not just to individuals, one by one, but to the strength of the peoples as a whole.