Knowledge management in indigenous medicine: the expected role of Ghanaian university libraries.

Author:Afful-Arthur, Paulina


Indigenous knowledge is considered to be the knowledge held in the minds of people which is less developed but keeps the sustenance of the community. It is the basis for self-sufficiency and self determination and provides alternatives to western technologies. It has been noted that loss of traditional, cultural and customary gap comes about as a result of lack of the right procedures of indigenous knowledge management. The risk of losing what is in the minds of individual is high; hence to ensure continuity of indigenous knowledge, proper knowledge management is required. According to Davenport (1994), knowledge management is "the process of capturing, developing, sharing, and effectively using organisational knowledge" on the other hand, it is the ways and means to notice, locate, disseminate or share an organisational or individual intellectual property. Indigenous medicine is an alternative medicine used in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of sicknesses in most societies. Specialists in this area include herbalists, traditional health attendants, and diviners amongst others. Unfortunately, some of the works of these practitioners are not documented.

Although a great deal has been written about the importance of knowledge management, relatively little attention has been paid to how knowledge creation process of indigenous healthcare can be managed, hence the need for the university libraries which serve as a repositories of knowledge transmission to assist in the dissemination of knowledge on indigenous medicine. The library's interaction with the environment together with the means by which it creates and distributes information and knowledge should be critically looked at when it comes to indigenous medicine.

Indigenous medicine management activities are part of the culture and tradition of the community. Indigenous medicine is not static; the contemporary orthodox medicine has influence on it (Cajete, 2000, Abbot, 2014 and Ebijuwa and Mabawonku, 2015, pp 58-67) believe that the documentation of indigenous knowledge could reduce the incidence of indigenous knowledge loss. In Ghana, most people depend on the use of various plant species and other substances to treat diseases. According to the World Bank (1998), indigenous knowledge in general faces extinction if it is not properly documented. University libraries need to be proactive as far as the preservation and dissemination of scientific, indigenous and cultural information are concerned (IFLA, 2008).

Problem statement

In Ghana, indigenous healthcare play a major role in health delivery, where medicinal plants, animals and charms are used to cure diseases. This treatment is sometimes complimented with physical, psychological and spiritual aspects. There is no society without indigenous knowledge in medicine; hence this form of knowledge is essential for socio-economic development. International Federations of Library Associations (2008) stated that indigenous knowledge is the basis for decision making, and that Adeniyi (2013), also buttressed this statement by asserting that a greater part of the world population depends on indigenous medicine for survival.

Unfortunately, as noted by Adeniyi (2013), African indigenous knowledge is poorly managed as a result, some of the ideas vanish once the custodians die. It must be noted that in Ghana, culture is orally transmitted and that little is being done to preserve indigenous knowledge in traditional medicine. The main problems negatively affecting traditional medicine in Ghana are; lack of records on practitioners including their qualifications, registration, educational background, inappropriate premises for practice, inadequate record keeping by practitioners, inadequate facilities for diagnosis of diseases, and the use of sub-standard products.

The advent of information technology which should have facilitated the preservation process had rather negatively affected transmission of indigenous knowledge in traditional medicine. Also, academic libraries tagged with the role of managing and transmitting all forms of information and knowledge seem not to be bothered about indigenous medicine. As a result, the development of indigenous medication is not as fast as orthodox medicine and this serves as a major setback to the necessary ingredients of socio-economic development. Thus, the key problem the study seeks to address is to ascertain and examine which management and dissemination practices should be carried out by academic libraries so that indigenous knowledge of traditional medicine could be preserved and transmitted as noted by IFLA (2008).


The main objective of this study is to find out the current way of preserving and disseminating indigenous medicine if any and the expected role Ghanaian university libraries can play to preserve and disseminate the knowledge involved generated so that this kind of healthcare will be sustained.

Brief background of Government's involvement in indigenous medicine in Ghana

It has beenthe policy of the Government of Ghana to encourage the continued development and research in traditional medicine so in 1961 the Ghana Psychic and Traditional Healers Association was formed. In 1975 the government established the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine in Mampong Akuapem, and charged with the responsibility of carrying out research and development activities in herbal medicine . Again, in 1991 the government established a Unit within the ministry of health to coordinate the activities of traditional; this was followed by the setting up of the Food and the Drugs Board in 1992. In 2000, the then government enacted the Traditional Medical Practitioners Council Act 575 for the establishment of Traditional Medicine Council. In 2001, a Bachelor of Science in Herbal Medicine was introduced at the Faculty of Pharmacy, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (Asare, 2015).

In 2012, Clinical Herbal Medicine Practice was integrated into the main healthcare delivery system in Ghana, through the effort of the Ghana Association of Medical Herbalists (GAMH). Currently, GAMH is advocating for the National Health Insurance Scheme to cover herbal treatments. Since there is high patronage of the indigenous medicine for many reasons as trust, proximity, cost and mode of payment

Currently, the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine in Mampong Akuapem, produces its own herbal medicines and runs an out-patient clinic which treats more than 16,000 patients a month (Owusu-Ansah, 2014). Despite the role played by indigenous medicine in Ghana, studies have shown that inadequate knowledge among a section of the general public about the benefits, efficacies and capabilities of indigenous medicine could negatively affect that sector of medicine.

Review of related literature

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Information and knowledge are used interchangeably and this is so because knowledge is created and organised by the flow of information. This means that information is a necessary medium or material for initiating and formalising knowledge. Knowledge can be analysed based on syntactic and semantic perspectives. The syntactic aspect does not really capture the meaning of the information unlike the semantic aspect hence in knowledge creation the...

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