On Traditional Medicine, Chronic Stress, and Social Support

The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of Africans rely on traditional medicine (TM) for their health care needs. TM is also considered to be widely accepted and available in most African communities, with its practictioners being highly regarded and socially-sanctioned (Samba, 2003). Thus, as evidenced by the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1978 on Primary Health Care Systems, TM is recognized, with its practictioners, as having an important role in attaining “health for all” (Chatora, 2003).

However, challenges such as issues concerning the safety, efficacy, and quality of TM, intellectual property rights, as well as the insufficient regimes for protecting traditional medical knowledge hinder the full incorporation of traditional medicine into national health systems and services. And so, in order to overcome these adversities and to optimize the use of TM in achieving health for all, a resolution to promote TM in health systems was adopted by the WHO Regional Committee for Africa (RC50) — which the Malian community decided to adapt upon attaining its independence.

Such promotion has two specific aims: 1) to factor traditional health activities into the national health policy, and 2) to actualize the local production of medicines from locally available natural resources (Diallo et al. , 2003). The first objective can be achieved through establishing mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the progress of the promotion (by the Regional Expert Committee), as well as regional conventions for CHPs and THPs, where they exchange of ideas and experiences for better learning.

Aside from this, there will be an African Traditional Medicine Day for advocacy, and a specific budget will be attributed for the development of TM and the strengthening of its human resources. The second objective, on the other hand, focuses on the conservation and cultivation of valuable medicinal plants in order to sustain the raw materials needed for the research and development of TMs. This requires the legislation of proper laws, which will enhance access to hectares of land of medicinal plant cultivation.

When this happens, farmers will also benefit from the cultivation because of their continued participation upon realizing the high economic value of medicinal plants (Wambebe, 2002). Mali, as well as other African countries, was encouraged to create enabling economic, political, and regulatory environment for the production of standardized African traditional medicine (Trapsida, 2003). As part of the integration of TM into health systems and services, the collaboration of THPs with CHPs is deemed necessary. This is mainly because such collaboration brings about improved health among the general population.

An evidence of this is the decreased rate of mortality caused by malaria, from 5% in 1997 to 2% in 1998, which was noted in Biandagara. Also, through collaboration, THPs will be recognized more because their work will be taken into account in the compilation of health statistics (Diallo et al. ). Successful collaboration can be obtained through imlementation of policies, regulation, training, seminars and workshops for THPs and CHPs (Sambo, 2003). Chronic stress, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is “the stress of unrelenting demands and pressures for seemingly interminable periods of time.

There are several potential causes of stress, ranging from major life changes such as divorce or transferring schools, to external demands from work, as well as internal pressures brought about by too much uncertainties and even low self-esteem. Social stressors, in particular, affect the quality of one’s daily life, which can eventually lead to increased chronic stress. Such social circumstances are poverty, social status, racial and social discrimination, unemployment, isolation and a lack of a social support network.

For instance, those who belong to the lower socioeconomic class tend to be more exposed to daily stressors such as financial problems, job insecurities, lower self-esteem, insufficient childcare, dangerous environment and living-conditions which may predispose them to various diseases, etc. Moreover, it has been found that increasing disparities among socioeconomic conditions are accompanied by widening socioeconomic gradient in mortality among men, wherein chronic stress is the major risk factor (Kopp et al. 2007).

Racial discrimination is one of the above mentioned social stressors than can lead to increased chronic stress. People of color become subjects of prejudice, as well as interpersonal, institutional, and cultural barriers, over which they have little or no control. On the other hand, occupational stressors can be considered as the leading cause of stress among American adults (“Job Stress,” n. d. ). It has been well established that chronic stress can lead to various diseases.

According to the APA, stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. ” For this reason, one should learn how to effectively manage stress, and must also have a strong social support network made up of family, friends, and peers. Studies have shown that there is an association between increased levels of social support and reduced risk for physical disease, mental illness, and mortality, which ultimately means a healthier well-being (Seeman, 2000).

Social support (particularly emotional support), provides one with a feeling of acceptance, value, and belongingnes, and security. For instance, if one feels too much pressure at work or in school, just having someone to talk to about your worries or realizing that the other person empathizes with you, will decrease the likelihood of negative emotions to surge. A strong social support network can also be helpful in improving or maintaining group health. This is because different members have different sets of personalities, which will aid in a greater balance and blend of social support for the benefit of the entire group.

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