The Ministry of Health is embarking on introducing traditional medicine into the health system in the country.
To pave a way to achieve this, health secretary Dr Josephine Herman says there will be a meeting of the traditional medicine practitioners next week led by the traditional expert leaders themselves.
Dr Herman said because the traditional medicine experts are more familiar on this field they would lead the course.
Since the restructure of the ministry when she joined a year ago, Dr Herman said they have focused on preparing the health system to deal with health threats faced by the local population.
The restructure which includes advisory parties and the community health team will also include the traditional medicine.
“We already use traditional medicine in our daily lives, but it has not been formally acknowledged by the health system, this is in terms of the delivery of the health system here,” she said.
Dr Herman said they plan to try and understand what the expert’s thoughts are on traditional medicines in the health system.
“It’s really to allow us to practise traditional medicine practices in a hospital setting or house setting alongside conventional medicine.”
Despite this plan being discussed at a very early stage, Dr Herman said the general consensus is that it is a good idea for the ministry to be working alongside traditional medicine practitioners.
When asked why introduce traditional medicine now? She replied: “Why not? Why have we never done this? We know it already happens, people use traditional medicine all the time.”
She said knowledge on this topic has always been within one’s culture and tradition but never fully utilised nor acknowledged.
Dr Herman said the ministry has also been working on some research led by its microbiology technician. They have found that some plants in the Cook Islands have anti-septic properties.
With this being proven, she questioned “why are people still purchasing creams from the pharmacy or shops” as disinfectants.
“We are trying to work towards acknowledging our traditional and cultural practises to ensure that we do not lose knowledge of this.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that traditional medicine is a health practice with strong historical and cultural roots, often evolved as part of a particular cultural heritage. The forms of traditional medicine vary widely across the region.
The health organisation released a Regional Strategy on Traditional Medicine in the Western Pacific for 2011-2020.
This strategy provides guidance for countries and areas, health organisations, development partners and other stakeholders on how to maximise the health potential of traditional medicine, and advance the cause of primary health care.
Well-known local traditional medicine expert in preparing the vairakau ati or bone medicine, Nooroa Baker in a video shared on Facebook said: “Our traditional medicines these days are disappearing because we are not teaching our children anymore. My vision is for parents to teach their children about our traditional medicines.”
The traditional gift of making bone medicine was passed down to Nooroa by his grandmother who was taught by her grandfather and generations before her.