Missionaries introduced allopathic medicine to Ghana during the colonial period. After independence in 1957, the Government initiated a number of medical projects, promoting allopathic medicine as Ghana’s official medical system. However, successive governments have recognized both traditional and complementary/alternative medicine, including acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, osteopathy, and hydropathy.
Traditional medicine practitioners use herbs, spiritual beliefs, and local wisdom in providing health care.
There are a number of associations of traditional medicine practitioners, including the Ghana Psychic and Traditional Medicine Practitioners’ Association, which was formed in 1961. In 1999, the Government brought all the traditional medicine associations together under one umbrella organization, the Ghana Federation of Traditional Medicine Practitioners’ Associations.
In Ghana, about 70% of the population depend exclusively on traditional medicine for their health care. There is approximately one traditional medicine practitioner for every 400 people, compared to one allopathic doctor for every 12 000 people. With over 100,000 traditional medicine practitioners uniformly distributed nationally, they are not only more accessible to the public, but also the backbone of the health care delivery system.
Restrictions contained in the Poisons Order 1952 limit the use of the substances listed in the Order to registered medical practitioners.
The Medical and Dental Decree of 1972 and the Nurses and Midwives Decree of 1972 allow indigenous inhabitants of Ghana to practice traditional medicine, provided they do not practice life-endangering procedures.
The Center for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine was established in 1975. In addition to its research capacity, the Center operates a hospital providing both traditional and allopathic medicine.
Until the passage of the Traditional Medicine Practice Act, the Government worked with the Ghana Psychic and Traditional Medicine Practitioners’ Association to license and register traditional medicine practitioners and to ensure a standard of care. The Traditional Medicine Practice Act 595 was drafted by traditional medical practitioners, placed before the Parliament in 1999. and passed on 23 February 2000. The Act establishes a council to regulate the practice of traditional medicine, register practitioners and license them to practice and to regulate the preparation and sale of herbal medicines.
The Act defines traditional medicine as “practice based on beliefs and ideas recognized by the community to provide health care by using herbs and other naturally occurring substances” and herbal medicines as “any finished labelled medicinal products that contain as active ingredients aerial or underground parts of plants or other plant materials or the combination of them whether in crude state or plant preparation”. The Act is divided into four parts:
Part I concerns the Traditional Medicine Practice Council, including its establishment; function; membership; tenure of members; meetings; the appointment of committees such as Finance, General Purposes, Research, Training, Ethics, and Professional Standards; granting of allowances to members; and the establishment of regional and district offices.
Part II covers the registration of traditional medical practitioners. Clause 9 states that no person shall operate or own a practice or produce herbal medicines for sale unless registered under this act. The qualifications for registration are given in Clause 10. Clause 11 provides for the temporary registration of foreigners who have a work permit, satisfy the requirements for registration under this act, and have a good working knowledge of English or a Ghanaian language. The rest of Part II deals with matters concerning renewal of the certificate of registration, suspension of registration of practitioners, cancellation of registration, and representation to the Council. In Clause 13, it is provided that the Minister of Health, on the recommendation of the Council in consultation with recognized associations of traditional medicine practitioners, may regulate the titles used by traditional medicine practitioners based on the types of services rendered and the qualifications of the practitioners.
Part III covers matters concerning the licensing of practices: mandatory licensing; method of application and conditions for licensing; issuance and renewal of licences; acquisition and display of licences; ownership and operation of a practice by a foreign practitioner; revocation, suspension, and refusal to renew a licence and representations to the Council by aggrieved persons; powers of entry and inspection by an authorized inspector; and notification of death to a coroner.
Part IV concerns staff for the Traditional Medicine Practice Council as well as financial and miscellaneous provisions, such as the appointment of a registrar, the provision of the Register of Traditional Medicine Practitioners, offences, and regulations. Clause 41 states categorically that the Act shall not derogate from the provisions of the Food and Drugs Board Law PNDCL 305B.
The Traditional Medicine Unit under Ghana’s Ministry of Health was created in 1991. In 1999, this was upgraded to the status of a directorate. The Ministry, in collaboration with the Ghana Federation of Traditional Medicine Practitioners’ Associations and other stakeholders, has developed a five-year strategic plan for traditional medicine, which outlines activities to be carried out from 2000 to 2004. It proposes, among other things, the development of a comprehensive training program in traditional medicine from basic to tertiary levels.
Volume 1 of the Ghana Herbal Pharmacopoeia contains scientific information on 50 medicinal plants. A second volume is currently in preparation. Efforts are being made to integrate traditional medicine into the official public health system. It is expected that by the year 2004, certified efficacious herbal medicines will be prescribed and dispensed in hospitals and pharmacies.
Local officials are allowed to authorize the practice of traditional medicine in their administrative and/or health subdivisions.
The Government of Ghana has set aside the third week of March every year as Traditional Medicine Week, starting from the year 2000.
Education and Training
Training by apprenticeship is required, accepted, and promoted for practitioners of traditional medicine. The Ministry of Health is working towards including traditional medicine in the curricula of allopathic medical schools and towards the introduction of a diploma course in traditional medicine at the postgraduate level. As a step in this direction, in the year 2000, the Ministry is planning to assess the training needs for traditional medicine practitioners. There are official training programs for traditional birth attendants.