Traditional healing practices prospered though our ancestors’ laborious observation and practice. The use of their available resources makes it affordable and accessible. Some of these traditional healing practices include the use of medicinal plant, acupuncture and acupressure, ventusa, and moxibustion. Aside from being cheap and readily available, it also considers the comfort of the patient. Traditional birthing practices allows the mother the freedom to choose the birthing position most comfortable to her and giving her the control over giving birth.
Traditional healing practices continue to provide affordable, accessible, effective and safe alternative and/or adjunct to western medicine. These healing practices are among the neglected in terms of research and development. We lack studies to establish necessary scientific explanation for its effect and side-effects, if any. Efforts to further develop traditional and alternative medicine include the establishment of Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care (PITAHC) through Republic Act 8423 or the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act of 1997. Up to the present, the Department of Health through research done by PITAHC has approved only 10 medicinal plants. The 10 approved medicinal plants merely represent 1% of the total plants traditionally used as medicines.
Among the more than 6,000 known plant species in the Philippines, about 1,500 are traditionally used to cure and prevent diseases as well as promote good health. Out of the 1500, about 600 are used in the Cordillera region. Most of these plant species have been documented in several books including the Common Medicinal Plants of the Cordillera by CHESTCORE and Leonard Co. Many of the studies being conducted on medicinal plants end in documentation. Phytochemical and pharmacological analysis to establish the basis for its therapeutic effects are lacking.
Filipinos continue to patronize the traditional medicinal practices including therapeutic massage locally referred to as “hilot” and other forms of massage to relieve fatigue, body aches and stress. Even with limited scientific study, it is proven effective by centuries-long practice.
One of the greatest obstacles in research is funding. Underfunding of health limits the studies needed to further develop traditional medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has also been adopted in the Philippines for decades. These medicinal practices were developed and utilized by the masses. These have been utilized in far flung areas where there is very little access to essential health services and medicines. At present, instead of disseminating and promoting the use of such affordable and effective forms of treatment, the DOH moved to commercialize this for profit and limit the knowledge to those who can pay for formal education. The DOH introduced the concept of licensing the practitioners of acupuncture requiring them to enter into formal education which resulted to costly treatment sessions. Such is a deviation from the purpose of developing traditional medicine to provide accessible, effective and affordable alternative treatment modalities for the poor Filipinos. This move to limit the knowledge and skills on traditional health to a few elite groups or individuals is characteristic of imperialist rule to control these for profit.
Also essential to the development of traditional and alternative health is the protection of the environment. Indigenous peoples have always been keen in protecting the environment as they see the important role of the environment in all aspects of life including health promotion, prevention and treatment of diseases. One of the prominent names in environmental protection and medicinal plants is Leonard Co who was brutally murdered by state forces in November 15, 2010 in Leyte. Justice remains elusive to the present. Twelve years of injustice promotes impunity to the guilty and proves to be detrimental to the environment and to health.
It is of utmost importance to recognize the role of the community in preserving and developing the traditional and alternative medicine. Therefore, they should benefit from it and not the imperialists who selfishly hinders development of knowledge to accumulate more profit. The month of November being the Traditional and Alternative Health Month coincides with it being the Anti-imperialist month brings forward the struggle for providing accessible, affordable, safe and effective treatment modalities.