the beginning of time, the world has suffered disease as part of everyday
life. Its impact has been that of a deficiency making some people momentarily
or definitely disadvantaged with respect to others, and for that reason alone,
if nothing else, it has opened the door to the thoughts of all those who feel
directly or indirectly concerned about peoples’ plights.
Not exclusively a human
plight, disease has been observed in both plant and animal kingdoms. Virus,
bacteria and fungi develop on rocks and literally prey upon them. Botanists
and agronomists have observed the infectious diseases of plants and the
immunological reactions those plants develop as a defense mechanism. Others
have noticed the role played by natural selection which reduces the impact of
the pathology on the life of many wild animals and plants. Grooming, - dust -
sand - and mud - bathing and frictions have been observed by naturalists as
forms of treatment amongst various animals, others also ingest certain leaves
or barks of trees which are not part of their ordinary diet and certain birds
have even succeeded to reduce fractures of their limbs, to dress up and to
bandage their wounds and their sores . . .
Nevertheless, human disease
is specific in that the social conditions of existence which develop
within each society make for the context in which it is inserted.
Colonialism and neocolonialism, for instance, have given rise to a number of
endemic diseases which have been perpetuated by the conditions of squalor in
which these populations are forced to live. Certain illnesses, just like
poverty and illiteracy, are social products.
The Haitian nation, which
emerged from the first successful slave rebellion of the New World, faced
immense political and economic difficulties from the out start. Isolated on
the international arena for over half a century, the country was subjected to
neo-colonial domination political strife and other factors to create the
situation of poverty which characterizes Haiti today.
It is within this context
that the Haitian population has developed its own system of healing.
University medicine is of recent introduction in the country and until now has
scarcely been able to attend to the populations’ needs in the health domain.
Concentrated mainly in the capital and major cities, this medical body depends
on expensive imported therapeutic ingredients as well as complex
installations. At the present time, there officially exists one hospital bed
for 1,400 Haitians, all of them existing in eleven hospital centers spread
throughout the roughly 30,000 km 2 of the national territory. One
medical doctor attends to a population of 10,000; in 1969, this figure was one
Holistic Medical System of the Haitian People has emerged
as the fruit of the thought and the practice of countless previous
generations. It concretely fills the void left by the enormous lack of formal
university medicine in attending to the needs of the population in its quest
for disease prevention, pains relief, curing ailments, and generally
preserving and improving the population’s health. I refer to it as holistic
because it consistently connects all parts of the human being, structures and
substructures, to the whole: in reality, no part of the individual can be well
understood without reference to the totality in which it is subsumed, mind,
spirit, body, society and universe. It is a system in that, following
the object of its study, this art reveals a great complexity, being formed of
many interconnected and interrelated parts: an organic whole, a system.
The thought which has given
birth to this medical system seems to be greatly in continuity with the
knowledge and the reflections of this peoples’ African ancestors. A
significant contribution may have come from Native American ancestors as well,
and European elements may also have partially contributed to its development.
The Traditional Medical system of Haiti is, thus, part of the people’s
culture, a people who have found in the reservoir of its heritage the
principles, methods and medical knowledge which are appropriate to their needs
and fit their thoughts.