PhD Defence: Traditional medicine in developing countries – A study of conceptualizations and utilization in rural Nepal

PhD defence

Rikke Stamp Thorsen


Traditional medicine and medicinal plants is continuously relied upon for health care in developing countries. This has led to the formulation of policies on the integration of traditional medicine into public health care. Little research has however examined local level use of traditional medicine for health care, in particular the use of self-treatment with medicinal plants. Thus, this thesis contributes to understanding the extent of traditional medicine use as well as why people use it in rural areas in developing countries.
Using Nepal as a case, the specific objectives of this thesis are; 1) to quantify the reliance on traditional medicine for health care as well as study the determinants of this reliance in rural Nepal; 2) to increase the understanding of why people use traditional medicine for health care in rural Nepal.

A mixed methods research design was employed and data were collected in 2012 through 54 semi-structured interviews, 10 group discussions and a household survey in 571 households. Data collection took place in three sites in Nepal representing differences in access to health care and medicinal plants as well as in livelihoods and ethnicities of the populations. The three papers in this thesis address traditional medicine within the pluralistic medical fields of Nepal from different levels of analysis. The first paper consider the various treatment opportunities available to people and contributes to increasing the understanding of how people conceptualize these and how treatment seeking practices are interpreted and experienced differently among people. The second paper quantifies reliance on traditional medicine and medicinal plants whereas the third paper addresses one specific form of traditional medicine and explores self-treatment with medicinal plants and the various ways this treatment is used to fulfill health care and social needs. The main conclusion is that traditional medicine plays an important role in health care in Nepal due to its continued utilization as well as through the ways traditional medicine is conceptualized and used to fulfill health care and social needs.
The use of traditional medicine reflects not only treatment needs, but broader social and everyday realities and cannot be accounted for simply by differentiating allopathic and traditional medicine. The pluralistic medical fields are constantly evolving as are the ways various treatments are experienced by people. This is also reflected in the way the importance of traditional medicine varies among sites and in the ways various treatments are differently experienced and used by people.


Helle Overgaard Larsen, Associate Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University  of Copenhagen, Denmark

Carsten Smith-Hall, Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University  of Copenhagen, Denmark

Assesment Committee

Iben Nathan, Associate Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics
University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Victoria Reyes-Garcia, Professor, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain

Jens Seeberg, Associate professor, University of Aarhus, Denmark