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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The use of biomedicine, complementary and alternative medicine, and ethnomedicine for the treatment of epilepsy among people of South Asian origin in the UK

Penny J Rhodes1*, Neil Small2, Hanif Ismail1 and John P Wright1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Health Research, Temple Bank House, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Bradford Royal Infirmary, Duckworth Lane, Bradford BD9 6RJ, UK

2 School of Health Studies, University of Bradford, 25 Trinity Road, Bradford BD5 0BB, UK

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2008, 8:7  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-8-7

Published: 20 March 2008

Abstract

Background

Studies have shown that a significant proportion of people with epilepsy use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM use is known to vary between different ethnic groups and cultural contexts; however, little attention has been devoted to inter-ethnic differences within the UK population. We studied the use of biomedicine, complementary and alternative medicine, and ethnomedicine in a sample of people with epilepsy of South Asian origin living in the north of England.

Methods

Interviews were conducted with 30 people of South Asian origin and 16 carers drawn from a sampling frame of patients over 18 years old with epilepsy, compiled from epilepsy registers and hospital databases. All interviews were tape-recorded, translated if required and transcribed. A framework approach was adopted to analyse the data.

Results

All those interviewed were taking conventional anti-epileptic drugs. Most had also sought help from traditional South Asian practitioners, but only two people had tried conventional CAM. Decisions to consult a traditional healer were taken by families rather than by individuals with epilepsy. Those who made the decision to consult a traditional healer were usually older family members and their motivations and perceptions of safety and efficacy often differed from those of the recipients of the treatment. No-one had discussed the use of traditional therapies with their doctor. The patterns observed in the UK mirrored those reported among people with epilepsy in India and Pakistan.

Conclusion

The health care-seeking behaviour of study participants, although mainly confined within the ethnomedicine sector, shared much in common with that of people who use global CAM. The appeal of traditional therapies lay in their religious and moral legitimacy within the South Asian community, especially to the older generation who were disproportionately influential in the determination of treatment choices. As a second generation made up of people of Pakistani origin born in the UK reach the age when they are the influential decision makers in their families, resort to traditional therapies may decline. People had long experience of navigating plural systems of health care and avoided potential conflict by maintaining strict separation between different sectors. Health care practitioners need to approach these issues with sensitivity and to regard traditional healers as potential allies, rather than competitors or quacks.