- Is the open appropriation of traditional healers in Africa capable of correcting some of the deficiencies of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? Well, a Ghanaian journalist believes this answer lies in the hands of traditional healers in his country’s Upper West Region.
The act of the World Bank funding the Northern Savannah Biodiversity Conservation Project so as to “empower traditional healers to come out with more potent and well packaged drugs to instil confidence in their preparations” (Ghana News Agency, January 21, 2006 as carried by ghanaweb.com) raises not only the on-going attempts to balance the huge imbalances in Ghana’s developing process, from practically indigenous values views, but righting the inadequacies embedded in the much-touted United Nations-minted Millennium Development Goals, reasonable parts of which deal with international health and development.
The growing imbalances in the Ghanaian health sector, like almost all the other development sectors, have come about because from the start of the nation-state called Ghana, health policies have not been driven from indigenous medicine fronts, of which many Ghanaians access, but from the newly introduced western medicine. It is in this background that the attempt to empower traditional healers in the northern parts of Ghana demonstrates not only right thinking and developmental reality, but also authentic attempts to open and re-orientate national policies that balance the colonial values with Ghana’s indigenous values.
Also, openly appropriating 500 traditional healers by somehow partnering them and giving them periodic training into the formal health sector will not only help resolve some of the shortcomings of the ambitious health MDGs such as the chronic shortage of health workers, but help refine some of known inhibitions in traditional medicine and give it the needed confidence and respect.
Of particular lesson to Ghanaian health policy-makers is the involvement of the World Bank in the biodiversity project which aims to support the traditional healers to “acquire land to cultivate medicinal tree species so as to have constant supply of raw materials and to sell part of it to others.” The World Bank was among the international development institutions that created the health MDGs and by helping to bring the traditional healers openly into the formal health sector, it is also helping to correct pretty much of the errors committed long time ago.
When in September 2000, 147 heads of state, the largest such gathering in the history of the world, met at the United Nations headquarters in New York to take action to solve the most pressing development problems facing humanity (interpreted: much more in Africa) today, they came out with an international development road map called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set out arithmetical targets and deadlines to measure human development performances. The MDGs measurements was that by the year 2015 poverty, the key driver of most of the global development troubles, especially in the poor countries, of which Africa leads, will be resolved.
Among the most serious parts of the MDGs is international health and development that deals with diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis (TB), maternal mortality, infant mortality, universal primary health, and the combating of HIV/AIDS. The idea of tying health to development, as Dr. Jeffrey D. Sach, of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and who led in the presentation of “Macroeconomics and Health: Investing in Health for Economic Development (World Health Organization, 2001), is to emphasis that better health is the motor of economic development, and at the centre of this is resolving poverty.
But the trouble with the MDGs, like most international development goals before it, does not only suffer “from a worrying lack of scientifically valid data,” as Dr. Amir Attaran, of Canada’s University of Ottawa’s Population Health and Global Development Policy, argues, but that the MDGs is also too macro, too western world driven and less developing world influenced, perhaps for power and monetary reasons, and does not reflected adequately the picture of the micro, what obtains, say, on the ground in Damongo, in Ghana’s Northern Region, where most people access traditional medicine.
For long time, it is not only the MDGs that do not reflect the real health needs of most Ghanaians or Africans; it is also the health policies of African governments, too. This is as a result of Ghanaian health elites who have weak sense of balances of the local and world in the development process. Also the result of colonialism that suppressed Africa’s indigenous values, touted it, wrongly, as “primitive,” and so not only de-emphasis African values in her education system, including her formal medical schools, but did not appropriate African values in policy-making but the colonialist’s. It is in this situation that African traditional medicine, among other Africa’s rich traditional attributes, finds itself, unlike the Japanese and the Chinese who have been able to balance their rich indigenous medicine with that of the West.
Ghana’s Health Minister, Courage Quashigah, a front-runner in the attempts to refine some of the deadly inhibitions in Ghana’s values for progress, captures the attempts to correct this long-running situation which has beclouded Ghana’s development process. Expectedly because of Ghana’s education system, which is heavily western-driven, Mr Quashigah has revealed how his bureaucrats have attempted to stifle his attempts to factor into Ghana’s health openly and respectfully traditional medicine as obtains in India and China.
The bureaucrats at the Health Ministry are reflecting deep-centred problem in Ghana’s education system that does not fully and respectfully emphasise Ghana’s traditions, culture, and experiences but rather the ex-colonialist, Britain. The interpretation is that the bureaucrats and other policy developers and implementers do not only understand their very environment and culture as the basis of Ghana’s development process, but also the fact that most of their policy-making do not reflect properly the elements and problems on the ground.
The World Bank funded Northern Savannah Biodiversity Conservation Project reveals attempts to correct many a developmental errors committed years ago. But the attempts to correct the development wrongs of yesteryears should first start from Ghanaian policy-makers and implementers, driven by the culture and experiences of Ghana, and then mixed with those of international development programs.
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