According to WHO, traditional medicine is the sum 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. Such practices are common worldwide and, while frequently used in developed countries, they are even more prevalent in the tropics. As many as 80% of people in some countries rely upon traditional medical practices as their primary form of health care. Poverty, lack of education, decreased access to standard medical care, and mistrust of Western medical concepts all play a role.
Traditional medicine practices are as varied as the societies of the world. Local practices for acute and chronic illnesses might include prayer, meditation, diets, fasting, massage, exercise, herbal remedies, acupuncture, skin scraping, and scarification. Underlying principles of traditional therapies vary greatly; in some societies, they are related to the balance or homeostasis between negative (bad, dark, devil, etc) and positive (good, light, angels, etc) forces. Ayurvedic medicine is practiced throughout South Asia and roughly translates to “the science of life.” This common practice seeks to promote spiritual harmony based upon the theory that health exists when there is a balance between body, mind, and spirit. Other concepts, such as witchcraft or the “evil eye,” are prominent in dozens of countries. The evil eye, or ocularis sinister, is thought to be the cause of a curse, spell, misfortune, or disease, and various amulets, decorations, or procedures may be used to ward off the unwanted effects.
Coin Rubbing. Typical coin-rubbing marks on the back of a Southeast Asian immigrant with a minor illness. (Photo contributor: Seth W. Wright, MD.)
Evil Eye Make-Up. Make-up on a girl in Bangladesh used to ward off the “evil eye,” a sickness transmitted by someone who is envious, jealous, or covetous. (Photo contributor: Seth W. Wright, MD.)
Traditional Healing Practice. Razor marks placed by a traditional healer in a Zambian patient with fever and cough. A chest x-ray showed an infiltrate corresponding to the razor marks. (Photo contributor: Seth W. Wright, MD.)
Fire Cupping. Fire cupping is used in traditional Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments including musculoskeletal pain and various respiratory, digestive, and gynecologic diseases. The distinctive temporary cupping marks develop as a result of vacuum formation within the cups as the heated air cools. (Photo contributor: Allison Bollinger, MD.)
Traditional Healing Practice. Use of plant material for healing ...