Traditional and Alternative Medicine Essay

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by Susan

15 May 2018

The utilization of traditional and alternative medicine is becoming a commonplace practice in today’s modernized society. There has been a noteworthy augment in the use of traditional and complementary alternative medicine. The use of these approaches for medicinal intervention, however, attracts ranging debates among professional doctors, traditional medicine practitioners, patients, and other stakeholders in the healthcare world. These debates touch on a number of issues ranging from the efficacy of traditional and alternative medicine to the risks associated with the use of these interventions in catering for healthcare needs in the patient. There is no common understanding in the healthcare world on the place of traditional and alternative medicine; therefore, reaching such an agreement remains rather elusive basing on the different angles used in the arguments for and against traditional and alternative medicine.

Despite the differences in opinion regarding the use of traditional and alternative medicine in healthcare, there has been a continued growth of reliance and use of these interventions by patients in addressing their healthcare needs. For instance, a study carried out by the World Health Organization indicates that over 80% of the population in low and middle-income countries turns to traditional medicine for healthcare needs while 65% of the population in high-income countries prefers alternative medicine for their healthcare issues. The reasons for this increase have been attributed to the need of patients to take a more proactive measure in their health status and be able to have control over their physical state (McCrae, and Funk, 1925).

Understanding of Traditional Medicine and Alternative Medicine

Today, different definitions are given for traditional medicine; hence, a clear understanding has to be drawn for developing any fruitful discussion on the differences, advantages, and criticisms of traditional and alternative medicine. According to some definitions, traditional medicine is regarded as the acquaintance, skills, and practices based on the hypothesis, beliefs, and experiences that originated in different cultures, used in the healthcare and in the deterrence, analysis, improvement, or treatment of physical and mental illnesses. In this context, traditional medicine covers an extensive range of therapeutic practices, which differs from one region to another and one nation to another. This commonplace definition of traditional medicine states that it relies on the holistic recovery of the body of the patient. It is mostly associated with the developing countries and practiced by untrained traditional doctors, who rely on herbals as drugs in their treatment (Barnes, Anderson, Phillipson, 2008). Therefore, traditional medicine in this aspect includes health observations, approaches, understanding, and beliefs integrating plant-animal and/ or mineral-based medicines, divine therapies, manual techniques, and workouts applied singularly or in combination to sustain well-being, as well as treat, detect, or prevent illness.

The other definition of traditional medicine covers the context of looking at traditional medicine as contemporary medicine or western medicine. In this context, therefore, traditional medicine is defined as the use of conservative medicine that relies on methodical philosophy, modern-day technologies, as well as scientifically proved approaches for purposes of preventing, diagnosing, and treating difficult health conditions. Consequently, the cause of the disease is vital to the treatment of that disease, as the practitioners firmly believe that diseases are caused by viruses and bacteria, which are pathogenic microorganisms that are only visible by the use of a microscope. The doctors undergo extensive training before they are qualified to treat people and apply the practices and knowledge received in medical schools, practiced in hospitals, and developed by other doctors. It relies on the diagnosis of the disease based on the tested symptoms and employs the use of prescribed drugs, scientific studies, laboratory tests, surgeries, pharmacology, and high-tech devices. This approach, therefore, recognizes traditional medicine as a common, contemporary medicine used in the treatment of the diseases based on the diagnostic results. The drug usually is meant for the particular treatment of that ailment and does not have a holistic effect on the body. For the purposes of this paper, therefore, traditional medicine will be defined as the use of contemporary medicine that relies on the use of scientific principles for diagnostic, treatment, and prevention of diseases.


Having defined traditional medicine, the sense of alternative medicine, on the other hand, becomes a clear as it refers to the summative of understanding based on age-old skills and practices, derived from theories and the way of life of different cultures and societies for maintaining their well-being. Alternative medicine thus applies the use of what are considered unconventional methods in the practice of healthcare for providing therapeutic results to the patients. They are used to diagnose, prevent, and improve treatment of any kind of sickness and disease. The unconventional methods involve the use of practices, such as massage therapy, aromatherapy, herbal medicine, and acupuncture. Such practices are not typically considered as traditional medical methods as they are healing practices that are neither taught in medical schools nor used in hospitals by doctors. Alternative medicine is usually identified by the use of its holistic approach in the healing process, as it looks for treating the whole person rather than just treating the sickness. It takes into account the body, mind, experience, and knowledge for diagnosis and further treatment. Practitioners in alternative medicine are not required to undergo extensive training for them to be able to treat individuals with this approach.

The Differences between Alternative and Traditional Medicine

The existence of both the traditional and alternative medicine remains critical to the provision of primary healthcare in the world. The need for improved healthcare has continued to increase with the technological advancements, which has brought with it cure for many types of sickness that traditional health care cannot meet on its own. The advancement in the global scene has also resulted in inequalities in the availability, accessibility, and affordability of healthcare in the world. Similarly, the acknowledgment of access to basic healthcare by international bodies, such as the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the World Health Organization, has made the need for alternative medicine crucial to the achievement of the human right requirements.
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The differences between these two approaches are numerous, even though, they are meant to achieve the same goal. Both traditional medicine and alternative medicine have the common aim of providing healthcare to every individual. This issue is just one among countless similarities that the two approaches share. However, the differences are important in understanding how the two work. Firstly, the major difference between the two approaches is the treatment mechanisms used by each of them. Traditional medicine relies on the method of treatment that seeks to cure the sickness or just suppress the condition that is causing it. It achieves this aim after conducting an analysis of the symptoms, from which the patient is suffering, in order to discover the sickness. This aim is achieved through conducting laboratory tests, physical examinations, and scientific analysis of the symptoms, which reveal the sickness that is being experienced Twumasi, 1988). Upon the discovery of the ailment, the doctors may embark on the process of treating the disease or controlling it. It is done through the prescriptions of the drugs that cure, suppress, and/ or control the sickness. The physicians, in the traditional setting, apply the practices that they have learned in medical schools; such practices are commonly practiced in hospitals by other doctors. This method of treatment is based on the fact that sicknesses occur as a result of bacterial or viral infections. Traditional medicine traces its roots back to the western industrial countries where scientific it was first practiced; thus, it is also known as the western medicine.

Alternative medicine, on the other hand, approaches the treatment of the person rather than just the disease. The method seeks to cure the patient completely, rather than just suppress it. Its holistic approach ensures that the disease will not affect the body in the future; it places consideration on the body, mind, spirit, and experience of the sick. The assessment of the sickness is not achieved through scientific experiments in the laboratory, but rather through the experience and emotions of the patient. It depends on how the patient describes the personal feeling; later, the practitioner decides on the appropriate therapeutic method for that particular ailment. The practices used are not scientifically validated, and they do not enjoy any approval by traditional doctors. These practices are considered unconventional treatment methods. The treatment is performed not through the prescription of medicine but rather manipulative and body-based techniques, such as massages. It usually includes the formal manipulative disciplines, such as chiropractic medicine and osteopathic medicine, which are used to relieve structural force on vertebrae and spinal nerve roots that practitioners perceive as having the ability to evoke the panoply of illnesses beyond mere musculoskeletal pain (Dean 2005). The treatment also includes mind-body medicine, which attempts to reassert natural harmony between the body systems. Alternative medicine, therefore, provides a holistic approach to the treatment of the sickness when compared to the traditional method.

The second difference between the two approaches regards the affordability of medicine in each of the treatment options. How affordable medicine is determined how accessible it becomes; this fact enhances access to primary health care. The affordability, availability, and accessibility of medicine are, therefore, crucial in accessing healthcare. In this respect, traditional medicine is one that has a complex and rigid system of treatment, which requires expert knowledge and extensive training. Studying to become a doctor is an expensive process that takes a long time; in addition, the production of drugs for treatment in the traditional medicine requires a lot of technological input and expert individuals. All these factors combine to make access to traditional healthcare a rather expensive affair. The drugs used in the treatment are very expensive; the fact makes it impossible for a person with a low income to afford them. Then the issue of insurance is also important, which also makes traditional medicine extremely unaffordable. Paying a doctor’s fee is also an expensive affair, which most individuals may not be able to afford. In most countries, the government usually has to step in and subsidize the cost of traditional medicine, in order to make it affordable.

Alternative medicine, on the other hand, is considered to be quite affordable when compared to traditional one. The alternative medicine practices, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, tai chi, meditation, reflexology, hydrotherapy, and massage, are known to be less expensive, almost between 50-63%, than traditional medicine in terms of achieving the same level of effectiveness. This affordability is attributed to different factors, which do not exist in alternative medicine but are found in the traditional approach. These factors include the fact that manufacturing cost of alternative medicine is almost non-existent; thus, the cost is not carried onto the treatment. Similarly, there is no cost factor in the technology used in production, storage, and treatment of illness. This feature makes the alternative medicine diverse and flexible, as it is affordable all over the world.
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Another difference between these two approaches is seen in the level of training that the practitioners in both fields undergo. This training is important in the process of treatment as, if the practitioner is unable to identify the ailment correctly, the treatment may be ineffective. The level of training in traditional medicine is extensive and thorough as future doctors are trained on the process of handling and dealing with patients (Ross, 2001). Under traditional medicine, the training of doctors is based on the aspect of life and death; therefore, the training takes quite a long time. However, alternative medicines do not or may not have extensive training when compared to traditional medicine. This fact in most cases works against alternative medicine, as the practitioners are unable to deal with complex situations.

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Criticisms of Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine has a number of criticisms, which highlight the shortcomings of the medical approach. Firstly, alternative medicine is usually, in most countries, a private area of medicine, which is not recognized by law and, therefore, not incorporated in the country’s official healthcare system. This fact, therefore, means that the distribution of alternative medicine treatment is not equal to all people. In most modernized countries, access to alternative medical treatment is left to the exclusion of the lucky few. The unequal distribution of the medicine violates the ethical principle of justice for everyone in healthcare provision.

Secondly, alternative medicine just like traditional medicine is subjected to ethical principles that bind the healthcare system in the world. These ethical principles include requirements of informed consent, confidentiality of the patient information, practice within the boundaries of capability, and development of a clear procedure of medical research. However, due to the unregulated and uncontrolled nature of alternative medicine, most of these ethical principles are violated. For instance, alternative medicine does not have sufficient funds for conducting trials; thus, it ends up relying on flawed, untested, and weak treatment methods, which are not scientific in nature. Therefore, if the research is unscientific, it cannot be ethical (Ahmad, Aqil, and Owais, 2006).

Thirdly, alternative medicine hinders quick access to medical care in instances where the detection of an existing disease requires advanced technology for treatment. Many of the therapeutic practices offered by alternative medicine are unable to diagnose diseases, such as cancer, heart conditions, and even high blood pressure. The practitioners, therefore, end up giving wrong diagnostics of the illness while delaying the treatment of such a disease. This fact greatly hampers the treatment of cancer, which may result in death.

Criticisms of Traditional Medicine

Traditional medicine, although greatly relied upon by virtually the entire world, has failed to solve all the sickness problems of humankind. Conventional or traditional medicine has been criticized for aggravating the problem instead of solving it. This assertion has appeared because most of the prescribed drugs that are given to a particular patient are usually made to inhibit or suppress the problem instead of curing the disease. The downside to this method of treatment is that these prescribed drugs usually have adverse side effects such that, a drug meant to be a painkiller, makes the patient vomit, dizzy, and weak. Such side effects may be extensive in some conditions like in the treatment of cancer where some drugs have been known to damage the liver. Therefore, traditional medicine fails to cure the disease and instead causes the development of a worse problem. Secondly, traditional medicine heavily relies on prescriptions; otherwise, the patient may be overdosed or even become an addict to such drugs (Liu, 2011). This aspect has attracted a lot of street value, where they are sold to addicts. The effect is that medicine are used to cause more harm than good in this manner.

In conclusion, it is important to combine the benefits of the traditional medicine and those of alternative medicine, in order to realize the basic human right of primary healthcare to every individual. More funds should be allocated to alternative medicine for improved research, in order to rely on tested treatment methods.

References:

  1. Ahmad, I., Aqil, F., and Owais, M. (2006). Modern Phytomedicine: Turning medicinal plants into drugs. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH.
  2. Barnes, J., Anderson, L. A., Phillipson, D. J. (2008). Herbal medicines (3rd ed.). London: Pharmaceutical Press.
  3. Dean, C. (2005). Death by modern medicine. USA: Matrix Verite Media.
  4. Liu, W. J. H. (2011). Traditional herbal medicine research methods: Identification, analysis, bioassay, and pharmaceutical and clinical studies. Hoboken, NJ: A John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Publication.
  5. McCrae, T., and Funk, E. H. (1925). Modern medicine: Its theory and practice. London: Henry Kimpton.
  6. Ross, I. A. (2001). Medicinal plants of the world, Volume 2: Chemical constituents, traditional and modern medicinal uses. NY: Humana Press.
  7. Rondberg, T. A. (1998). Under the influence of modern medicine. USA: The Chiropractic Journal.
  8. Twumasi, P. A. (1988). Social foundations of the interplay between traditional and modern medical systems. Ghana: Ghana Universities Press.