The determinants of traditional medicine use in northern Tanzania: a mixed-methods study

Stanifer JW, Patel UD, Karia F, Thielman N, Maro V, Shimbi D, Kilaweh H, Lazaro M, Matemu O, Omolo J, Boyd D; Comprehensive Kidney Disease Assessment for Risk factors, epIdemiology, Knowledge, and Attitudes (CKD AFRIKA) Study.
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Traditional medicines are an important part of healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa, and building successful disease treatment programs that are sensitive to traditional medicine practices will require an understanding of their current use and roles, including from a biomedical perspective. Therefore, we conducted a mixed-method study in Northern Tanzania in order to characterize the extent of and reasons for the use of traditional medicines among the general population so that we can better inform public health efforts in the region.


Between December 2013 and June 2014 in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, we conducted 5 focus group discussions and 27 in-depth interviews of key informants. The data from these sessions were analyzed using an inductive framework method with cultural insider-outsider coding. From these results, we developed a structured survey designed to test different aspects of traditional medicine use and administered it to a random sample of 655 adults from the community. The results were triangulated to explore converging and diverging themes.


Most structured survey participants (68%) reported knowing someone who frequently used traditional medicines, and the majority (56%) reported using them themselves in the previous year. The most common uses were for symptomatic ailments (42%), chronic diseases (15%), reproductive problems (11%), and malaria/febrile illnesses (11%). We identified five major determinants for traditional medicine use in Northern Tanzania: biomedical healthcare delivery, credibility of traditional practices, strong cultural identities, individual health status, and disease understanding.


In order to better formulate effective local disease management programs that are sensitive to TM practices, we described the determinants of TM use. Additionally, we found TM use to be high in Northern Tanzania and that its use is not limited to lower-income areas or rural settings. After symptomatic ailments, chronic diseases were reported as the most common reason for TM use which may be particularly important in Northern Tanzania where non-communicable diseases are a rapidly growing burden.