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Traditional Medicine: A Complementary and Accommodating Health Services Delivery System at the Village Level of Tanzania

by Matrona Kabyemela 


It is estimated that 60-80 percent of people in African countries including Tanzania use traditional medicine as their primary source of health services despite the presence of the biomedical system. There is scant literature that has paid attention on how traditional medicine coexists with the biomedical system of health services delivery in Tanzania. This article adapts the Helmke and Levitsky model of formal and informal institutions in comparative politics to understand how traditional medicine complements and accommodates biomedicine in health service delivery in Tanzania. It draws on qualitative data from a case study conducted in six villages of Bukoba district, Tanzania in 2016-2017. The study involved traditional health practitioners, biomedical practitioners, household respondents and key informants from the organizations responsible for health services delivery. Data was collected through interviews, key informant interviews, observation, and documentary review. Traditional medicine complemented and accommodated the biomedical system because it addressed various ailments which are hardly treated by the biomedical system at the village level. Traditional medicine does not cause delays in referring patients to biomedical facilities, and it fills the gap of dwindling biomedical facilities in rural areas.

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Dr. Matrona Kabyemela holds PhD in Public Administration from the University of Dar es Salaam. She is a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration. Her major research areas are on local and grassroots democracy, health systems, public policy and human resources management.