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Epilogue in august 2004 South Africa officially recognized its “indigenous” medical systems and began the process to legalize the practice of traditional healers. After years of being criminalized under white minority rule and largely condemned by the biomedical community, South Africa’s 350,000 traditional healers must soon obtain a government license to practice. Healers will be restricted from treating fatal diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, but given their popularity—80 percent of the South African population consult such healers—they are seen by many as a necessary component of healthcare delivery and as important agents for educating the populace on the realities, perils , and prevention of HIV and AIDS. Incorporating traditional healers and medicine into a state medical system that has overwhelmingly preferred the biomedical sciences has not been easy. As this book has shown, these two medical cultures not only embrace different ideas about the body and the origins of illness , but share a history of commercial and ideological competition as well as different relations to state power. The legalization of traditional medicine thus presents a number of difficult questions. One of the most important is: How will a largely local, unsystematized, nonhierarchical, and oral collection of therapies that as of yet is largely unregulated come to be systematized and brought under the regulatory eye of government? Given that governments tend to favor institutional sciences and those who are Western educated and bureaucratically literate, is it possible to rectify the imbalances of power and enable healers to be meaningfully incorporated into a state-sanctioned system of medical pluralism? Clearly South Africa is not the first country to undergo such a transition;1 nevertheless this is an important process to watch. 183 You are reading copyrighted material published by Ohio University Press/Swallow Press. Unauthorized posting, copying, or distributing of this work except as permitted under U.S. copyright law is illegal and injures the author and publisher. In addition to the challenges of regulating African medicine, healers in the future will have to cope with the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic,2 overharvesting of medicinal plants, protecting intellectual property rights, avoiding exploitation for commercial gains, and possibly losing control over the ways in which future generations utilize traditional medicines. Changes in South Africa during the 1990s profoundly altered the stakes of traditional medicine and created new stakeholders that now include pharmaceutical companies, government departments, and university research labs. Bioprospecting of indigenous medicinal plants is now seen as a legitimate and necessary government project. The health minister herself has stated, “South Africa is blessed with a rich heritage of medicinal plants that through sustained research and development, could offer a solution to some of the common health problems the world is grappling with.”3 An integral part of this project is collecting and collating existing local medical knowledge in a form that is useful and knowable to government, university labs, and pharmaceutical companies. While the collection of medicinal botanical knowledge has roots in the colonial period and the collaboration of healers and scientists is not new, the University of Cape Town’s Traditional Medicine Program began a new type of collaboration in 1994. This project brought in traditional healers during its initial phases, helped them to write articles, produced a “Traditional Healer’s Primary Care Book,” promised benefit sharing in the case of successful bioprospecting, and has successfully created a national databank of South Africa’s medicinal plants. The creation of a database has important implications in its ability to transform one type of knowledge and power (folk or “traditional”) into another (institutional science). Such transfers of knowledge could have important repercussions to both knowledge communities. How has this partnership been cultivated, and what do the various stakeholders perceive as the benefits of such interaction? These are important questions for future research and ones that can potentially help other medically plural societies. A number of factors in the 1990s changed government and scientists’ ideas about the importance of African healers and medicinal plants. First, the HIV/AIDS crisis that exploded in the 1990s opened up pressures for new collaborative efforts between healers and biomedical practitioners. While such schemes had a number of detractors, on both sides, others could point to a number of successful collaborative projects.4 More importantly the end of apartheid bought a flush of international funding, with donor agencies seeking to support collaboration and HIV/AIDs training for healers. Second, the “legitimacy” of African medicines gained a boost on a national level when Thabo Mbeki...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780821443026
Related ISBN
9780821418505
MARC Record
OCLC
742512921
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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