Coexistence of traditional healing and modern medicine in Bangladesh

Published : 10 Jul 2024 09:46 PM

The intersection of traditional healing practices and modern medicine is a global pheno­menon, particularly pronounced in multicultural societies where multiple medical systems coexist. Traditional healers, often referred to as "Kabiraj" or "Hakim" in Bangladesh, provide culturally rooted treatments deeply intertwined with the social fabric of communities. Despite the expansion of modern medical facilities, many people in Bangladesh continue to prefer traditional treatments due to cultural beliefs, affordability, and accessibility.

Traditional medicine remains a vital component of healthcare worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes its importance and has initiated efforts to integrate these practices into national healthcare systems, acknowledging that a substantial portion of the population relies on traditional healers for their primary healthcare needs. For instance, in Africa, traditional healers are often the first point of contact for healthcare and their practices are trusted and respected within communities.

In Asia, the coexistence of traditional and modern medical systems is particularly evident. Countries like India and China have long histories of traditional medicine, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), practiced alongside allopathic medicine. These systems not only provide alternative treatment options but also reflect the cultural and historical heritage of their respective societies. The integration of these systems has shown potential benefits, including increased access to healthcare and patient satisfaction, yet also poses challenges in terms of standardization and regulation.

Arthur Kleinman's seminal work on the cultural dimensions of illness and healthcare provides a valuable framework for understanding the interaction between traditional and modern medical systems. Kleinman emphasizes the importance of cultural context in shaping health behaviors and medical practices, arguing that illness is not merely a biological condition but a culturally constructed experience. His concept of "explanatory models" highlights how patients and healers from different cultural backgrounds interpret and respond to illness, which is crucial for comprehending the dynamics of medical pluralism.

In Bangladesh, traditional healers continue to play a significant role in healthcare, particularly in rural and marginalized urban communities. Despite the availability of modern medical facilities, many people prefer traditional treatments. This preference underscores the importance of understanding how traditional and modern medical practices coexist and influence each other in the Bangladeshi context.

Researchers can aim to contribute to the global understanding of medical pluralism, providing insights that can inform policies and practices for integrating traditional healing practices with modern healthcare systems in a culturally sensitive manner. 

The study's findings will be particularly relevant for healthcare providers, policymakers, and scholars interested in the cultural dimensions of health and medicine.

The integration of traditional and modern medicine presents both challenges and opportunities. Challenges include potential conflicts between different medical paradigms and the need for regulatory frameworks to ensure safety and efficacy. Opportunities lie in enhancing patient trust and adherence to treatment plans by providing holistic and culturally appropriate care.

International health organizations such as WHO advocate for the integration of traditional medicine into national health systems to achieve universal health coverage. Such initiatives aim to combine the strengths of both traditional and modern medical systems to improve health outcomes.

Asia is home to a rich diversity of traditional healing practices, including Ayurveda, TCM, and various indigenous systems. These practices are deeply embedded in the cultural heritage of Asian societies and play a significant role in healthcare. In countries like China, TCM is integrated into the national healthcare system, coexisting with Western medicine. This integration reflects the cultural acceptance and historical significance of traditional healing practices, providing a model for other countries.

In many Asian countries, patients use a combination of traditional and modern treatments. This behavior is influenced by the holistic approach of traditional healers, which often includes spiritual and community dimensions, and the scientific focus of modern medicine.

There is a significant urban-rural divide in healthcare access in many Asian countries, including Bangladesh. Urban areas tend to have better healthcare facilities and services, while rural regions often rely more on traditional healers due to limited access to modern medical care.

In Bangladesh, traditional healing practices such as Unani, Ayurvedic, and folk medicine are widely practiced, especially in rural areas. These practices are integral to the cultural and social fabric of Bangladeshi society, with traditional healers serving as accessible and trusted healthcare providers. The healthcare system in Bangladesh is pluralistic, with traditional healers and modern medical practitioners often working in parallel.

Socioeconomic disparities are significant in Bangladesh, with the poor having limited access to quality healthcare services. Traditional healers often provide affordable and accessible care, filling a critical gap in the healthcare system. Public and private healthcare services also contrast sharply, with private facilities being more accessible to wealthier individuals, while the poor often rely on public healthcare or traditional healers.

Residents of urban slums, such as those in Dhaka, also in other urban areas, face severe healthcare access issues, with overcrowding and poor living conditions exacerbating health problems. Traditional healers often serve these communities, providing culturally appropriate care. Recent government initiatives aim to improve healthcare access for the poor, but challenges in implementation remain, highlighting the need for more effective integration of traditional and modern medical systems. The interplay between traditional healers and modern medicine in multicultural societies is a complex but essential area of study. Understanding this dynamic requires a nuanced appreciation of the cultural, social, and historical contexts that shape health practices. Arthur Kleinman's work underscores the importance of viewing health within its cultural framework, advocating for an integrated approach that respects and incorporates diverse medical traditions. As societies continue to navigate the dual realms of traditional and modern medicine, fostering collaboration and mutual respect will be key to achieving holistic and culturally competent healthcare.

Reference: Ahmed and Hossain (2020) discuss health literacy and education in Bangladesh, while Ahmed et al. (2015) examine gender, socioeconomic development, and health-seeking behavior. Afsana et al. (2019) explore healthcare access in Dhaka’s urban slums. Gao and Jang (2019) analyze cultural beliefs in Asian healthcare utilization. Hussain et al. (2020) address socioeconomic disparities in healthcare access. Islam et al. (2020) focus on challenges in implementing the Shasthyo Surokhsha Karmasuchi. Khan et al. (2020) compare public and private healthcare services. Khan and Faruquee (2011) study traditional and modern medicine integration. Kleinman (1980) explores cultural contexts in medicine. Liang and Langenbrunner (2020) discuss urban-rural healthcare divides. Naved et al. (2019) highlight gender disparities. Patwardhan (2005) advocates for traditional medicine. Peltzer (2009) investigates traditional medicine in South Africa. Prakongsai et al. (2019) review Thailand's universal healthcare. Rahman et al. (2012) describe traditional medicine in rural Bangladesh. Rashid et al. (2020) address healthcare disparities through community programs. Tangcharoen­sathien et al. (2020) discuss health equity in Southeast Asia. WHO (2013) outlines the Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023.

Sheikh Mehzabin Chitra is a University Correspondent of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), Bangladesh Post, and a final year honours student of the Anthropology Department of the institution.