Limitations and strengths of ethnoveterinary medicine

Evelyn Mathias, October 2001

Like any other type of medicine, ethnoveterinary medicine has both limitations and strengths. Common complaints by stockraisers, extensionists and scientists include: 

bullet Some remedies are inconvenient to prepare or use.
bulletCertain plants are available only at some times of the year.
bulletSome treatments are ineffective.
bullet Some practices are harmful.
bulletTraditional diagnoses may be inadequate (typically identifying symptoms rather than underlying causes of a disease).
bulletDosages are uncertain and remedies are not standard.
bulletThe resource base is deteriorating, making ingredients unavailable for preparing medicines. 

Ethnoveterinary medicines are often not as fast-working and potent as allopathic medicines. They may therefore be less suitable to control and treat epidemic and endemic infectious diseases (e.g., foot-and-mouth disease, rinderpest, haemorrhagic septicaemia, anthrax, blackquarter, rabies), and acute life-threatening bacterial infections (e.g., generalised cases of coli- or pyogenes mastitis). For these problems, modern drugs might be the best choice. 

But for common diseases and more chronic conditions such as colds, skin diseases, worms, wounds, reproductive disorders, nutritional deficiencies, and mild diarrhoea, ethnoveterinary medicine has much to offer and can be a cheap and readily available alternative to costly imported drugs. For some diseases, a combination of modern and local remedies and management practices might be preferable. 

Even with infectious diseases, ethnoveterinary treatments should not be dismissed out-of-hand. Many drugs used in chemotherapy are based on chemical substances of plant origin, or on the semi-synthetic derivatives of such substances. Some local preventive methods are effective and simple to apply; an example is the pox vaccination conducted by pastoralists. 

The search for alternatives is especially important, as nowadays any unnecessary use of antibiotics and other chemical drugs is discouraged in the light of residue problems and the growing resistance of micro-organisms to some drugs. Projects should therefore explore whether local treatments are available, and should validate practices that are promising.

Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989, Martin et al. 2001

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