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Prevalence and factors associated with the use of alternative (folk) medicine practitioners in 8 countries of the former Soviet Union

Andrew Stickley12*, Ai Koyanagi2, Erica Richardson3, Bayard Roberts1, Dina Balabanova1 and Martin McKee1

Author Affiliations

1 European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 15-17 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9SH, UK

2 Stockholm Centre on Health of Societies in Transition (SCOHOST), Södertörn University, Huddinge 141 89, Sweden

3 European Observatory on Health System and Policies, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 15-17 Tavistock Place, London, WC1H 9SH, UK

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013, 13:83  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-83

Published: 11 April 2013



Research suggests that since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been a sharp growth in the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in some former Soviet countries. However, as yet, comparatively little is known about the use of CAM in the countries throughout this region. Against this background, the aim of the current study was to determine the prevalence of using alternative (folk) medicine practitioners in eight countries of the former Soviet Union (fSU) and to examine factors associated with their use.


Data were obtained from the Living Conditions, Lifestyles and Health (LLH) survey undertaken in eight former Soviet countries (Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine) in 2001. In this nationally representative cross-sectional survey, 18428 respondents were asked about how they treated 10 symptoms, with options including the use of alternative (folk) medicine practitioners. Multivariate logistic regression analysis was used to determine the factors associated with the treatment of differing symptoms by such practitioners in these countries.


The prevalence of using an alternative (folk) medicine practitioner for symptom treatment varied widely between countries, ranging from 3.5% in Armenia to 25.0% in Kyrgyzstan. For nearly every symptom, respondents living in rural locations were more likely to use an alternative (folk) medicine practitioner than urban residents. Greater wealth was also associated with using these practitioners, while distrust of doctors played a role in the treatment of some symptoms.


The widespread use of alternative (folk) medicine practitioners in some fSU countries and the growth of this form of health care provision in the post-Soviet period in conditions of variable licensing and regulation, highlights the urgent need for more research on this phenomenon and its potential effects on population health in the countries in this region.

Alternative (folk) medicine; Former Soviet Union; Rural residence; Medical symptoms; Prevalence