Traditional medicine has its shortcomings especially if it is used outside the traditional settings. Healers often make extravagant claims to cure all human ills. They often count their successes and ignore failure. In the absence of regulatory bodies or channels for validation, these claims become obviously dangerous. Effective measures may be unduly delayed.
Lack of verifiable theory, limit the capabilities of TM, make weak diagnoses, and poor management. Sentimental attachment to national heritage, frequently overweigh the power of facts, and scientific reasoning in areas where modern medicine proved its worth beyond doubt.
The few surgical operations carried out by traditional health practitioners carry potential risk of uncontrolled bleeding for lack of technique, e.g., circumcision. Wounds could get infected easily, and patients may catch tetanus.
A surgical or a medical procedure is considered beneficial if it evokes severe pain, induces heavy perspiration, or severe vomiting. Bleeding during catheterization, a frequent procedure in manipulating strictures of the urethra, is seen as portending a successful outcome.
Bone-setting complications include mal-union, gangrene, nerve injuries, etc. These are the result of outright ignorance of anatomy and physiology or improper application of tourniquets.
In cataract extraction, an immediate regain of some vision is achieved, but invariably followed by complications, and deterioration of vision due to the effect of the lens left behind.
Many laxatives and purgatives have been acclaimed for their potency. Indeed, uncontrollable diarrhoea is looked upon as a measure of how effective a purgative is, and so healers prescribe drastic sharbas (purges) to satisfy their patients. These have caused severe bouts of diarrhoea and even death.
The materia medica abounds in poisons that have been abused, in committing infanticide, or inducing abortion. Some tribes smear arrows, lances and spear heads with extracts of poisonous plants. They use these poisoned weapons either to incapacitate victims so that they may conveniently be robbed or captured, or to kill them outright.
In food habits, prevalent social customs and personal idiosyncrasies, affect health when they deprive people of much-needed food in times of scarcity. For example, certain food taboos, several foods are omitted from a child’s diet during feeding in general and weaning in particular. By so doing, a child is inevitably deprived of some high-quality foods. Breast milk is believed to be harmful once the next pregnancy is suspected.