Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Use of traditional medicine for the treatment of diabetes in Eastern Uganda: a qualitative exploration of reasons for choice

Elizeus Rutebemberwa123*, Muhamadi Lubega14, Sheila K Katureebe5, Abanga Oundo6, Francis Kiweewa7 and David Mukanga38

Author affiliations

1 Department of Health Policy, Planning and Management, Makerere University School of Public Health, Kampala, Uganda

2 Iganga-Mayuge Demographic Surveillance Site, Iganga, Uganda

3 African Field Epidemiology Network, Kampala, Uganda

4 Iganga Hospital, Iganga, Uganda

5 Department of Community Health and Behavioural Sciences, Makerere University School of Public Health, Kampala, Uganda

6 Bugiri Hospital, Bugiri, Uganda

7 Joint Clinical Research Centre, Kampala, Uganda

8 Division of Global Health, IHCAR, Department of Public Health Sciences, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

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Citation and License

BMC International Health and Human Rights 2013, 13:1  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-13-1

Published: 2 January 2013



While there are biomedical drugs for managing diabetes mellitus, some patients with diabetes use traditional medicine. The aim of the study was to explore why patients with diabetes use traditional medicine for the treatment of diabetes.


The study was conducted in Iganga and Bugiri districts in Eastern Uganda using four focus group discussions (FGDs) with patients with diabetes; two with female patients and two with male patients, thirteen key informant interviews (KIIs); nine with health workers working with patients with diabetes and four with herbalists. FGDs and KIIs focused on what respondents perceived as reasons for patients with diabetes taking traditional medicine. Analysis was done using content analysis.


Reasons for taking traditional medicine included finding difficulties accessing hospitals, diabetic drugs being out of stock, traditional medicine being acceptable and available within community, as well as being supplied in big quantities. Others were traditional medicine being cheaper than biomedical treatment and payment for it being done in installments. Traditional medicine was also more convenient to take and was marketed aggressively by the herbalists. Influence of family and friends as well as traditional healers contributed to use of traditional medicine.


Possibilities of putting diabetic drugs at facilities closer to patients need to be considered and health facilities should have a constant supply of diabetic drugs. Community members need to be sensitized on the proper treatment for diabetes mellitus and on the dangers of taking traditional medicine.