Home Institution

Muhlenberg College

Publication Date

Summer 2011

Program Name

Madagascar: Traditional Medicine and Health Care Systems


While the Malagasy commemorate their Independence Day on June 26 as the day they were freed from colonization and allowed to function as their own country with their own cultures and practices, colonization and Western influence has left an indelible mark on Madagascar that continues to exert its power to this day, shaping Malagasy social behaviors, values, and lives. The introduction of the slave trade to Madagascar in the mid-1800s, as well as French colonization, has left behind a thriving latent and structural racism in the country; a Western ideal of beauty, made complete by its valorization of fair skin, continues to permeate Malagasy life through advertisements, TV, movies, and music, contributing to a preference for Indonesian heritage and appearance. Additionally, the introduction of allopathic medicine and an economics-based health care system to Madagascar by the French continues to function as the primary system despite its failure to meet all the health care needs of its people. But while a great percentage of the Malagasy population cannot stand to benefit from purely allopathic remedies, mainty, or “blacks,” in the highlands might be said to be at an even greater disadvantage to access needed health care services and medication because of their underprivileged position in society. Furthermore, their ability to physically access allopathic care may be undercut by their greater concentration in rural communities with less physical access to hospitals and allopathic facilities. As a result, mainty may be more likely than their fotsy (“white”) peers to turn to more accessible, less expensive traditional medicine practices—but even traditional medicine has not been free from Western influence, facing illegalization, de-valorization, and demonization due to promotion of Christian and Western values. Such a de-valorization may negatively impact mainty who, because of their greater lack of resources, need traditional medicine to reasonably meet their health and economic needs, further undermining their ability to successfully access needed health care services and to live long and healthy lives. There is no doubt that the introduction of these Western alternatives has worked tirelessly to alter the native Malagasy people, promoting Western ways of life while de-valorizing traditional Malagasy ways of life in the process and socially shaping the dimensions of health in Madagascar, be it through the health care systems or the Malagasy’s relationship to them.


Inequality and Stratification | International Public Health | Public Health | Public Health Education and Promotion | Race and Ethnicity