Medicinal plant use and pathways to healthcare in Idiofa, Democratic Republic of Congo
Emiel De Meyer1, Melissa Ceuterick2, Patrick Van Damme3
1Ghent University, Dep. of Plants and Crops, Belgium
Primary health care in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) mainly consists of the use of medicinal plants. Idiofa is a large municipality 469 east of Kinshasa located in the savannah, south of the Kasai River and the Congo Basin, where patterns of urbanisation and globalisation can be observed. With 61,000 inhabitants, multiple ethnic groups, religions, origins and influences are brought together, creating a diverse society. We investigated the use of medicinal plants in this urbanizing context. Our aim was to record the medicinal plants used, describe their uses and explore pathways to healthcare for residents. In addition, we tried to analyse the dynamics behind the use of medicinal plants. We conducted 30 semi-structured in-depth interviews with residents of Idiofa. The participants were selected through purposive sampling. The use of medicinal plants was recorded through free-listing, semi-structured interviews and walk-in-the-woods. Perspectives on medicinal plants were explored through semi-structured interviews. We have registered 362 applications from 103 plants. The most commonly used plants were Carica papaya, Gymnanthemum amygdalinum and Rauvolfia mannii. The most commonly treated diseases and conditions were gastrointestinal infections, malaria, and anaemia. The municipality of Idiofa acted as a sink and reservoir for regionally harvested medicinal plants and natural resources in general. The sources of medicinal plants were home gardens, the savannah and tropical forest. People sought information through informal networks and traditional healers. The most common diseases were treated by everyone, specific diseases and conditions (such as those allegedly caused by witchcraft) were treated by traditional healers. People had self-proclaimed skills to treat specific diseases and conditions and did so as a business. Traditional healers acquired their knowledge through intergenerational knowledge transfer, but also through hallucinations and dreams. Allopathic medicines were supposed to treat symptoms of a disease, but not the disease itself. The influence of urbanisation on the use of medicinal plants was rather than the abandonment of traditional medicinal practices, reflected in the used diversity of plants, which can be related to the emergence of a more diverse environment.
Keywords: DR Congo, ethnobotany, urbanisation
Contact Address: Emiel De Meyer, Ghent University, Dep. of Plants and Crops, Coupure Links 653, geb. A, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, e-mail: emiel.demeyerugent.be