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Traditional Medicine in Senegal

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as follows: “Traditional medicine is the sum total of the knowledge, skills, and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences indigenous to different cultures used in the maintenance of health as well as in the prevention, diagnosis, improvement or treatment of physical and mental illness.”

Expert and family-based medicine

Through traditional medicine, human beings seek out a form of control over their lives and to affirm themselves in their environment.

Furthermore, it can be subdivided into family-based and expert medicine: family-based medicine refers to the recipes that are accessible to all and offer rapid treatment of mild afflictions; expert medicine designates the broad field of highly complex recipes that are used to treat serious illnesses.

Senegalese traditional medicine as it is practiced today

The lucidity of traditional medicine as it is practiced today proves that it is not, as we are led to believe, an esoteric concept that is locked in space and time. The role of the practitioner has broken up into several professions, principally due to demographic factors that weighted down the workload (multiple consultations, increased need for plants). This role, which at first brought together pharmacist (finding plants and developing treatments) and doctor (consultation and prescription of medication) is now in the processes of giving rise to new specializations, such as that of the herbalist.

As Yvette Parès had recommended, this development should be taken into account by world nations, to say nothing of the need to aid the integration of traditional medicine into the public health system at large. This is a necessary step to secure the practice of traditional medicine, which statistics show is in use by 85% of the world’s population. Furthermore, even more so than in “modern” medicine, self-prescription and the usurpation of tasks constitute real menaces.

The example set by the Hôpital Traditionnel de Keur Massar

The hospital’s reception directs patents to a practitioner — each of whom has a specialization, from psychiatry to dermatology — according to their condition. Following his or her consultation, the patient can continue to the pharmacy, which distributes medicine that is prepared according to the recipes of Yvette Parès, the founder of the hospital. The entire spectrum of these traditional treatments were created in the spirit and the letter of age-old African traditional medicine. Moreover, these plant-based treatments contributed to the construction of the foundation of the Africa’s pharmaceutical independence.

At Keur Massar plants are harvested, cut, dried, and then reduced into powders that are stored in the laboratory. They come from three sources: the hospital’s botanical garden, the marketplace, and the neighboring orchards and wilderness. Using these plants, the hospital produces over forty medications that are often made using complex recipes, some of which are available in a variety of forms: powders, teas, syrups, ointments…

The list of medications made at the Hôpital Traditionnel de Keur Massar


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