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Opinions of Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Columnist: Collegeof holistic medicine

Can naturopathic and conventional medical practitioners coexist in Ghana?

Herbal and conventional medical care complement each other Herbal and conventional medical care complement each other

The global healthcare system is gradually shifting towards a more inclusive system of healthcare delivery, in order to improve the quality of life (QOL) of its clientele.

The emergence of COVID-19 has further cemented the call for an integrative approach to healthcare delivery, as some countries such as India and China have adopted a combination of natural and conventional healthcare therapies in handling the pandemic. Many conventional medical professionals have reservations about the activities of naturopathic Practitioners in Ghana.

Definition of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic Medicine is a distinct area of primary health care delivery which combines the traditions of natural healing with the rigors of modern science. Naturopathic physicians/doctors (NDs) are trained as primary care providers who diagnose, treat, and manage patients who have acute and chronic conditions while addressing disease and dysfunction at all levels of the body, mind, and spirit.

NDs concentrate on the whole patient's wellness, through health promotion and disease prevention, attempting to find the underlying cause of the patient’s condition. NDs care for patients of all ages and genders. They provide individualised, evidence-informed therapies, applying the least harmful and most effective approaches to help facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore


In 2016, Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa, former Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, advocated for a national health dialogue on the proliferation of Naturopaths without identifiable sources, educating people through the mass media.

Prof Akosa noted: “And I think it is time, let’s sit down and let’s debate. Who is a herbal practitioner? Who is a naturopath? What knowledge do they acquire before they get that? Prof. Akosa’s observation in the herbal and Naturopathic community is a topic that needs to be given optimum importance in Ghana as a nation.

The burden of lifestyle diseases in Ghana

Modern Naturopaths are vested in Lifestyle Medicine and can contribute to the fight against lifestyle diseases in Ghana.

Due to the ongoing epidemiological transition of disease burden from infectious to more lifestyle-related diseases globally, incidence rates of non-communicable diseases have been on the rise in recent times.

Interestingly, all these lifestyle diseases could be dealt with using lifestyle medicine which is incorporated and taught in Naturopathic Medical Schools.

Integrative Medicine to bridge the gap in healthcare

The Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine & Health, (2015) defines integrative healthcare as an avenue of medicine and health that “reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, and is informed by evidence.

“As a naturopathic physician and a researcher, I know there is the other aspect of healthcare that mainstream medicine is not aware of. I also know that, medicine is not about competition” (Obu, 2020) and Naturopathy and Mainstream can coexist. Nonetheless, Naturopathy has its own limitations as it cannot address some medical and surgical emergencies. Besides, naturopathic modalities are not magic bullet therapies.

The beauty of integration

Gaver and Vaartnou, (2015) believe that the beauty of an integrative care model is the potential to streamline patients to the appropriate medical model. Interestingly, the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia, (2015) explained that the two professions have come a long way in working alongside each other, and naturopathic doctors have gained ground and respect as medical practitioners, with the scope of practice continuing to evolve.

Challenges in forgoing integration

We found that if the GP is not open to complementary care from other health professionals, it potentially isolates that patient. In fact, sometimes patients have a fear of telling the Medical doctor that they are using a particular alternative care product.

Some doctors do not want to hear about herbal medicines. There are also some Naturopaths who also advise their clients against conventional medicine. This attitude between Naturopaths and the Medical community does not improve patients’ quality of life.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In fact, the 2002 Romanow Report demonstrated the need and desire of Canadians for a more comprehensive healthcare system. The report recommends a collaborative system where individuals receive care from a multitude of healthcare services delivered in a seamless fashion, as opposed to receiving isolated care from many healthcare practitioners. We, therefore, recommend this report for evaluation to aid holistic integration into the Ghanaian Healthcare system.