Is there a divide between local medicinal knowledge and Western medicine? A case study among native Amazonians in Bolivia.
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Abstract Background Interest in ethnomedicine has grown in the last decades, with much research focusing on how local medicinal knowledge can contribute to Western medicine. Researchers have emphasized the divide between practices used by local medical practitioners and Western doctors. However, researchers have also suggested that merging concepts and practices from local medicinal knowledge and Western science have the potential to improve public health and support medical independence of local people. In this article we study the relations between local and Western medicinal knowledge within a native Amazonian population, the Tsimane'. Methods We used the following methods: 1) participant observation and semi-structured interviews to gather background information, 2) free-listing and pile-sorting to assess whether Tsimane' integrate local medicinal knowledge and Western medicine at the conceptual level, 3) surveys to assess to what extent Tsimane' combine local medicinal knowledge with Western medicine in actual treatments, and 4) a participatory workshop to assess the willingness of Tsimane' and Western medical specialists to cooperate with each other. Results We found that when asked about medical treatments, Tsimane' do not include Western treatments in their lists, however on their daily practices, Tsimane' do use Western treatments in combination with ethnomedical treatments. We also found that Tsimane' healers and Western doctors express willingness to cooperate with each other and to promote synergy between local and Western medical systems. Conclusion Our findings contrast with previous research emphasizing the divide between local medical practitioners and Western doctors and suggests that cooperation between both health systems might be possible.