The History of Folk And Preventive Medicine in Ethiopia: the Study of Traditions and Challenges of Modernity

  • Authors: Ionova A.S.1, Nenakhov I.G.1
  • Affiliations:
    1. Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N. Burdenko
  • Pages: 66-69
  • URL:

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This scientific article examines the history of folk and preventive medicine in Ethiopia, as well as the challenges facing modern medicine in this country. The authors of the study analyzed the traditional methods of treatment used by the people of Ethiopia and traced their evolution over the centuries. They also studied the country's modern medical system, including national prevention and treatment programs, and identified the main problems faced by modern medical practitioners in Ethiopia.

Full Text

Medicine in Ethiopia has a rich history dating back several millennia. For many centuries, traditional medicine and traditional methods of treatment have remained the main source of knowledge and experience in the treatment of diseases. However, in recent years, along with the rapid development of modern methods of treatment and prevailing health challenges, traditional medicine and traditional methods of treatment have been forgotten and slowly replaced by modern methods of treatment [1].
The purpose of this article is to study the history of folk and preventive medicine in Ethiopia, to describe traditions and methods of treatment, as well as to study the challenges of modernity in preserving these traditions. Various aspects of folk and preventive medicine are considered, such as the use of herbs and plants, conducting various rituals, methods of treating various diseases and aspects of modern medicine, taking its roots from the history of the people of Ethiopia.
Materials and methods: general methods of scientific research, analytical method.
The main part.
Ethiopia is a country with a mild climate, but river valleys have always been hotbeds of malaria. The tradition of eating raw meat by African peoples has led to widespread worm infestations. As in other African countries, Ethiopians periodically suffered from smallpox, tuberculosis and leprosy. Although Ethiopia did not have modern medicine in the past, the country had a system of medicine based on its own experience and knowledge of neighboring peoples [2].
Traditional Ethiopian medicine was closely related to witchcraft, but its integral part was also the knowledge of the transmission of diseases from person to person through objects. It is possible to draw some parallels with the folk medicine of ancient Russia [4]. Therefore, during outbreaks of diseases among the population or livestock, the Government tried to prevent the movement of the population across the country. In the nineteenth century, there were cases of burning entire villages with residents in Africa when the slightest signs of dangerous diseases were detected. Although this method was cruel, Africans believed that they were doing the right thing by sacrificing several, even hundreds of lives, to save the rest of the country's population.
Before getting acquainted with modern medicine, Ethiopians used vaccinations as a means of preventing smallpox. When the disease approached the villages, the residents gathered together, and those who did not have vaccinations were given portions of salt and grain. Then they went to the neighboring village, where the patient with the greatest number of scabs was located, and led him to the shaman. The shaman collected secretions from the wounds of the patient and injected them into small wounds on the hands of healthy people.
Ethiopian folk medicine includes many medicinal products that use the leaves, fruits, seeds and roots of various plants, as well as animal products such as honey, butter and mutton fat. Honey, as a universal healer, was used to treat colds and sore throats, and oil was used to treat smallpox, malaria and other diseases. Mutton fat, which can be used both as an ointment and inside, is used to treat many ailments and injuries [1].
One of the interesting means is scale obtained by melting iron, which was used as an antiseptic for the treatment of wounds. It is important to note that most medicines and remedies were used in combination with witchcraft, rituals and the use of amulets that helped attract spirits and gods.
In addition, it is worth noting that most of these tools were scientifically justified by European scientists in the middle of the XIX and early XX centuries. Venereal diseases in ancient times were treated in various ways, however, if the patient did not believe in the power of medicine, they resorted to tying sheets torn from some holy scripture to the sore spots.
In Ethiopia, various methods were often used to treat ulcers, such as fumigation, steam baths and compresses of crushed leaves. The disease was also treated with potent laxatives, which helped to get rid of the infection.
One of the most popular remedies was the infusion of the Kosso tree. The preparation of this remedy was accompanied by obligatory shamanic rituals, chants and dances. Although shamanic rituals were not necessary for treatment, they helped to strengthen faith in the power of the remedy.
Similar "distracting" methods of treatment have been spread all over the world [3]. Specifically in Ethiopia, with gangrenous angina, black pepper was chewed, and with pneumonia, moxibustion was done on the chest. Rheumatism was also treated in similar ways.
Bloodletting and jars have also been used in the treatment of various diseases such as headaches, fevers and rheumatism. Patients were asked to put their hands behind their ears, after which the wrists and neck were wrapped with tourniquets. When the veins on the forehead became visible, they were pierced and the blood was dumped into a container. This method was considered effective, although it could also be dangerous and lead to infection.
In addition to describing the treatment of fractures, it can be mentioned that herbs were also used in Ethiopia to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. For example, aloe extracts have been used to treat sprains and ligamentous injuries. Open wounds were usually covered with leaves of aloe or other plants that had anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
In addition, it can be noted that Ethiopian doctors not only treated physical injuries and diseases, but also conducted psychotherapy sessions. They used methods that may seem rather primitive now, but were very effective at the time. For example, they could sing and dance around the patient to raise his spirit and improve his emotional state.
Ethiopia also used methods that today we would consider cruel and unethical. For example, implanting pieces of the skull into wounds, knocking out a tooth with a stone and a nail may seem unacceptable for modern medicine. But, at that time, these were common methods of treatment, and they were based on the knowledge and experience that were available then.
Modern medicine in Ethiopia differs significantly from traditional medicine, which was practiced in the past. Modern methods include the use of modern medical equipment and medicines, as well as the development of the healthcare system.
Currently, Ethiopia is considered one of the countries with the lowest availability of medical care. The main health problems in the country are associated with insufficient funding, lack of qualified medical personnel and limited access to medicines and medical equipment [1, 2].
However, in recent years, the Ethiopian Government has made significant efforts to develop the health system. The work includes the construction of new medical centers and hospitals, training of medical personnel and increasing the availability of medicines and medical equipment.
Among the most common methods of treatment in modern Ethiopian medicine are the use of antibiotics, antiviral drugs and surgical interventions.
Despite the problems associated with the availability of medical care, there are successful projects in Ethiopia to combat infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, as well as projects to improve the health of mothers and children [1, 2].
Thus, modern medicine in Ethiopia continues to develop and improve, although there are still many problems that need to be solved in order to provide all residents of the country with access to quality medical care.


About the authors

Anna Sergeevna Ionova

Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N. Burdenko

ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7196-6492
SPIN-code: 3243-2036

student of the 3th year Faculty of Medicine and Prevention

Russian Federation, 10 Studentskaya str., Voronezh, 394036, Russia

Ivan Gennadievich Nenakhov

Voronezh State Medical University named after N.N. Burdenko

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7942-2844
SPIN-code: 9905-2934

Candidate of Medical Sciences, Associate Professor of the Department
of Hygienic Disciplines

Russian Federation, 10 Studentskaya str., Voronezh, 394036, Russia


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