Accepted paper:

Systematic literature review of the links between local knowledge and biomedical health services in Africa: implications for practices and reach for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


Sarah Cummings (VU University Amsterdam/Wageningen University and Research)
Suzanne Kiwanuka (Makerere University)
Chris Zielinski (University of Winchester)

Paper short abstract:

Based on a systematic literature review of 5 bibliographic databases, we investigate links between traditional and biomedical health services in Africa. In-depth analysis of the literature indicates diverse disconnects between traditional and biomedical health services, requiring further research.

Paper long abstract:

Health is recognised as being central to the SDGs with one specific goal focused on health, while aspects of health pervade many other goals and targets. Recently, some academics and civil society actors have argued that there is too much emphasis on scientific knowledge at the expense of other types of knowledge within the SDG process. This is a particularly important issue in the health sector in many LMICs where biomedical services are unable to fill the enormous gap between demand and supply and where local knowledge - under the guise of traditional medicine - is providing a majority of health services. In Africa, 80% of services are provided by traditional medicine. In this paper, we employ a critical interpretive synthesis (CIS) method, namely a form of systematic literature review, to search and select studies from 5 electronic databases, yielding 159 studies. After review, a final total of 26 studies were relevant for analysis. The theoretical framework is provided by the structural, relational and cognitive components of social capital. In-depth analysis indicated evidence of cognitive (different knowledge systems, different status), structural (legislative framework, educational systems) and relational (trust/distrust, lack of connecting networks) disconnects between traditional and biomedical health services with only one study specifically focusing on linking the two systems. We conclude that improving the links between traditional and biomedical health services has not been widely studied in the scientific literature. Further research should focus on case studies at local and national level.

panel A1
Decolonising health research for development [paper]