Why Surinamese migrants in the Netherlands continue to use medicinal herbs from their home country

Author(s): van Andel T, Westers P


Aim of the study: When people migrate, they tend to bring along their medicinal plants. In order to improve migrant health, we need information on their traditional health beliefs and practices. This paper investigates medicinal plant use among Surinamese migrants in the Netherlands.

Materials and methods: Data from 210 semi-structured interviews among 1st and 2nd generation Surinamese migrants were analysed to determine which medicinal plants were used, for what purposes, which demographic, socio-economic or psycho-social factors play a role in the choice for traditional medicine and to clarify people's personal motives to use herbs. Variables associated with medicinal plant use were identified by using the Pearson gamma2 test and the two-sample t-test. After selecting significant variables by means of bivariate analyses, multinomial logistic regression with stepwise forward selection was used to assess whether medicinal plant use could be explained by a combination of these variables.

Results: More than 75% of the respondents used herbal medicine, and 66% did so in the past year. Herbs were more frequently employed for health promotion (39%) than for disease prevention or cure (both 27%). Almost half of the respondents who had been ill the last year had used herbal medicine. More than 140 herb species were mentioned during the interviews. Plant use was often related to certain culture-bound health beliefs. Spiritual baths were the most popular traditional practice, followed by genital steam baths, bitter tonics, and the consumption of bitter vegetables. Afro-Surinamers more frequently used herbal medicine than Hindustani. The WINTI belief strongly influenced plant use, as well as the occurrence of an illness in the past year, and frequent visits to Suriname. Age, gender, income and education had no significant effect on the use of traditional medicine. Surinamers stated that they used medicinal herbs because they grew up with them; herbs were more effective and had fewer side effects than conventional therapies.

Conclusions: As long as certain culture-bound beliefs and health concepts remain prevalent among Surinamese migrants, and ties with their home country remain strong, they will continue using medicinal herbs from their country of origin. More research is needed on the health effects of frequently used medicinal plants by migrants in the Netherlands.

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