Why do patients in many parts of the world choose to use traditional medicines, although modern medicines may be available to them?

Traditional medicines for sale in Mali
Why do parents take a convulsing child to a traditional healer, whereas for a simple fever they are more likely to use modern medicines?

Which plants do patients and healers use to treat different illnesses? And how do we know whether what they mean by “malaria” or “high blood pressure” is the same as is meant by biomedical scientists?

These are just some of the fascinating questions which the disciplines of anthropology and ethnobotany can help to answer. Medical anthropology is the study of people’s understanding, concepts, beliefs and practices regarding health and illness. Medical ethnobotany is the study of plants used to treat different illnesses.

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Throughout the study of medical anthropology and ethnobotany, it is important to keep in mind the ownership of traditional knowledge and ensure free prior informed consent in communities. For more information on this aspect, read about Intellectual Property Rights.


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The panel overseeing this section of the website consists of the following experts:

Prof Jong de Joop, University of Amsterdam

Prof Drissa Diallo, University of Bamako

Prof Diana Gibson, University of the Western Cape

Dr Susan Reynolds-Whyte, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Dr Ruth Kutalek, University of Vienna

Dr Merlin Willcox, University of Oxford

Ms Charlotte van’t Klooster, University of Amsterdam