Traditional Systems of Indigenous Health

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  • The expression “traditional indigenous health systems” is used rather than just “traditional medicine”, meaning the different interconnected and interdependent components and elements that need to be taken into account to understand how health is maintained or restored. When the system works well, it activates a form of knowledge and wisdom that helps generate a feeling of wellbeing between people and their social and environmental surroundings. This is what is known in anthropological language as “living well”. There are specialists of this kind of knowledge in every culture. As communicators and mediators between their society and the spiritual forces and powers from the supernatural world, they fill the role of “activators” of this wisdom.

Although the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and other International Organizations have recognized them, traditional indigenous health systems mostly remain unrecognized by local health and educational institutions. There is a tendency to reduce indigenous knowledge and capabilities under the simple term of “traditional medicine”, associated with the use of some medicinal plants and “strange beliefs”. Unfortunately, this traditional medicine has lost a lot of its strength and efficiency in many places today because of various external influences and pressures, as well as the interiorization of the western way of thinking among the people of the younger generations. Traditional medicine was prevented from evolving and adapting to change, and was furthermore displaced by other ways of practicing medicine. These new ways though do not always succeed in solving health problems, mainly because they fail to be delivered in a culturally pertinent manner. They also create dependencies and destroy the peoples‘ own creative forces and capacities.

Many declarations exist at an international level, such as the Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization and the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that grant the right to choose their own way of making health and education. Since the beginning of the 1980s, in Amazonia, a few local initiatives have been attempting to promote the reconstruction and revitalization of traditional indigenous health systems, as a strategy to improve the health conditions of local populations. This strategy has tried to reintegrate essential elements of these systems such as the recovery of the ancestral lands, the conservation of natural resources, the recognition of family and community education system, the revitalization of preventive health knowledge and practices, and more. All of these elements are important for the reactivation of these life systems, which were deactivated by events from their past and recent history.

Sacha Warmi serves to be a resource and a reference center for indigenous people, communities and organizations interested in health and healthcare, for the construction of more culturally relevant and efficient local healthcare systems in Ecuadorian Amazonia.
SWC is also making itself available to support local initiatives and institutions and deliver advice on the design of health programmes, which look to reaffirm the need and importance of revitalizing traditional Indigenous health systems.
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