GIFTS of Health was an international partner in the International Conference on Women’s Health and Asian Traditional Medicine (WHAT Medicine 2005) held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 23rd to 25th August 2005. The aim of the conference was to bring into focus the Asian healthcare traditions used by generations of women to care for their families and their own health needs. It was hoped that the conference would stimulate a process of ensuring that the best of these traditions are preserved, promoted, evaluated and used as culturally appropriate strategies for meeting women’s healthcare needs in contemporary society.
Specific themes included theory and practice within leading Asian medical traditions (e.g. Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, Traditional Chinese Medicine and traditional Malay medicine); women’s reproductive and gynaecological health; menopause and ageing; skin health and beauty; gender-specific perspectives on degenerative diseases and sexually transmitted infections; nutrition and lifestyle; and socio-legal issues, including ownership and intergenerational transfer of traditional health knowledge.
WHAT Medicine 2005 was supported by a high level international team of scientists and traditional medicine practitioners and was co-chaired by Professor Gerard Bodeker, Chair of GIFTS, and Professor Fredi Kronenberg, Director of the Rosenthal Centre for Alternative and Complementary Medicine in the College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University, USA. The conference was accompanied by an exhibition of Asian traditional medicines and therapies (including dietary supplements, natural/functional foods, and skin health and beauty products) as well as companies providing ancillary services related to the field.
The contribution made by traditional healthcare services to the physical and psychological well-being of refugees, particularly those living in camps, is rarely acknowledged at the international level. GIFTS of Health, in collaboration with the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre, conducted a research and development programme at the Thai-Burma border from 2001-2003, focusing on the utilization of traditional healthcare by Burmese refugees. The project included: training of clinic staff in herbal medicine; research on Mae Tao Clinic outpatients’ use of and belief in traditional medicine and spiritual practices; and initial work on the development of networks of herbalists in the Thai-Burma border region. Training programmes stimulated the development of several traditional healthcare initiatives and knowledge exchange networks throughout the border region. Outpatient survey findings revealed that 59 refugee respondents listed 271 traditional remedies used for common health conditions. Research on psychosocial health found that separation from ancestral spiritual practices and shrines in the home country may exacerbate and even prolong mental health conditions. Cooperation between Western clinical services and traditional health practitioners was found to be intimately linked with refugee health and well-being, including cultural continuity and identity.
GIFTS of Health, in collaboration with the Oxford Refugee Studies Centre, is currently carrying out field research to examine the extent and significance of traditional healthcare use among Burmese refugees living in camps in western Thailand. The Chiang Mai Botanical Garden is assisting with the identification of plants. Preliminary results suggest that use of medicinal plants is widespread and that traditional healers provide a valuable service, helping people to maintain a sense of cultural identity while coming to terms with displacement and bereavement.
GIFTS Publications on Refugees