The world today largely depends on the inventions of biomedical advancements. Scientists all across the world have recognized the core role of biomedicine to heal any kind of disease. Though biomedicine being the only medical system that is totally scientific and comes to recognition after years of research yet a lot of other medical systems exist all over the world. Practitioners of science may refer to other medical systems as ancient, savage, and baseless but the question is, why then multiple medical systems exist even in scientifically and technologically advanced societies?

The coexistence of different medical systems based on different philosophies and different principles in a specific society is termed as “Medical pluralism”. In a pluralistic medical system, one can use both conventional and complementary alternative medicine (CAM) according to their choice or necessity. In complex society medical pluralism is characterized by a system where biomedicine has some dominance over alternatives that may coexist in a competitive, collaborative, and cooperative way (Baer, Floyd, 2005).

There are three types of medical systems found almost in all complex societies, which are: (1) Local medical system (2) Regional medical system (3) Cosmopolitan medical system. The local medical system generally is related to folk healing, regional medical system may indicate the practice of Ayurveda and Yunani in south Asia and globally accepted scientific medical system is called the cosmopolitan medical system (Dunn,1976).

Health seeking process can vary for different reasons. Such as a religious group might receive holy water from a religious scholar rather than having medicine from the doctor. Again, a folk healer or religious healer often charges less than a doctor. Gender, age, geography can be a constraint to seek a specific kind of medical system so they choose the other one, there could be racial discrimination or it just can serve a cultural meaning.

In sub-Saharan Africa, extensive use of indigenous medicine coexists with biomedicine. A study shows that in recent years, 53% of respondents visited folk healers. The same study shows that age is a major determinant to seek folk healing services where the younger population being followers of modern and scientific healing systems rarely visits folk healers. (Falisse, Maniso, Ngenzebuhoro, 2018). Another study in America among women has shown that 53% of respondents seek CAM mainly for chronic pain.  nutritional supplements and herbs were commonly used as prescription according to a health condition. (Wed, et. al., 2008)

Health seeking process may also indicate hierarchy at a different level. For example in the USA the people from heist rank or prestige seeks biomedicine which degrades gradually to osteopathic medicine, professionalized a semi professionalized heterodox medical system, then the Anglo Americans go through the medical process derived from spiritualism, Christian Science, etc. then there comes the African American, Mexican American and Native American folk medicines and the working class are generally consumers of these systems where the elite and upper class goes with biomedicine. (Baer, Floyd,2005). According to Hans Baer, alternative medical systems often display the fine form of elitism, hierarchy, and bureaucratic form of biomedicine.

Medical doctors usually deny the role of folk healers where the healers often well recognize the role of doctors. (Islam, n. d.). Biomedicine emphasizes the separation of mind and body and refers body as a machine and patient as an object which is often criticized and a humanistic model where must be seen in a holistic way is proposed which stresses mind-body connection on which other healing services stress importance. However, most of the doctors deny accepting other knowledge as valid and keep their system in a position of authority. By the late 1970s, a lot of doctors started to adopt alternative therapies because limitations of the biomedical paradigm were recognized and many of their more affluent patients were rushing to alternative practitioners. This indicates the industrialization of the biomedical system which works according to consumer’s choice for profit.

However, no system in society exists if it doesn’t have any valid mechanism. Studies have been conducted and will be taking place to know the actual sustainability of different kinds of medical systems. Going through a system with enough knowledge about it and having respect for other systems may help society to run more peacefully.

Further Reading

Baer, Hans A. , Robbie Davis-Floyd, Robbie Davis, 2005, Sage Encyclopedia of Anthropology, Sage Publications.

Islam, Md. Nazrul, Pluralism, parallel medical practices and the question of tension: the Philippines experience, anthropology matters.com

Wade, C., Chao, M., Kronenberg, F., Cushman, L., &Kalmuss, D. (2008). Medical pluralism among American women: results of a national survey. Journal of women’s health (2002), 17(5), 829–840.