It’s all in the herbs: How traditional medicine shapes rabies treatment

By Karissa Magnuson
Student, Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine

During our time here in Ethiopia, we have been surprised to find out how often people, especially in rural settings, believe and prefer a traditional healer instead of modern medical doctor. My curiosity on this subject led to me to do a little research online into the prevalence of traditional healers in Ethiopia as well as traditional treatments for rabies proposed by these healers.

Traditional medicine dates as far back as the 15th century in Ethiopia and consists not only of herbal remedies but also of animal and mineral-based concoctions as well as spiritualistic rituals and aromatherapy. Most traditional healers have learned their trade from a family member, and like doctors, these healers go through both a physical exam and history when they examine their patient.

Not surprisingly, many modern health care workers do not support traditional medicine; however, there are some that feel collaboration between traditional and modern healers could provide the best treatment for patients.

In my research I was shocked to discover that up to 80% of Ethiopians use traditional medicine as their primary source of health care. (A historical overview of traditional medicine practices and policy in Ethiopia.) Being from a country where modern medicine is viewed as infallible, with Chinese and other traditional medicine slowly gaining some credence in the U.S., an 80% preference rate is surprising.

So is there any stock in traditional medicine in the treatment of rabies? In my search, I found remedies which have included the use of skullcap on wounds (This herb tends to have astringent effects, antiseptic effects on wounds, and anti-anxiety effects.) Garlic was also frequently mentioned for treatment. I was shocked to discover that garlic has been found to have some effects on paralytic disorders. The bark of Alangium salviforium, a flowering plant, has also been indicated as a possible treatment and has been proven to have anti-epileptic effects. The main question that I am left with is: Are these treatments and herbs effective or is traditional medicine hindering rabies eradication in Ethiopia? Or perhaps, it warrants further research and possibly future collaborative efforts in the cure and eradication of rabies within this amazing country. Only more research will tell.

Data collection in Debark

By Karissa Magnuson
Student, Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine

For the past two days we have been in Debark, a town about 100 kilometers north of Gondar. Debark was our second data collection site for our rabies research project.

It is a common resting place for tourists who wish to visit the Simien Mountains. On our two-hour drive up to the city, we passed stunning scenery. The countryside is full of lush, rolling hills and looks like a patchwork quilt of rich coffee brown fields and vibrant green countryside.

We passed many farmers out plowing their fields with oxen and an old-fashioned plow. It was idyllic, and I felt like I had stepped back into a different time.  It was hard to go five minutes without seeing a shepherd out with his flock of goats or sheep, and there were always cows, goats, and sheep grazing in the distance. Our van had to stop or slow down a few times as wandering goats, sheep, and cattle crossed the road.

The people of Debark were very friendly and accommodating. For the project, my team was in charge of urban adults and children. It was truly a privilege to be able to walk their streets and be invited into their houses, especially since they knew nothing about me. Every house we went to, I was offered a chair or a place to sit, and a few times, they roasted a snack for me over their fire for me to eat. The hospitality here was truly amazing.

Our last day of data collection, we went up to a small neighborhood on a hill. Immediately we were surrounded by a huge group of children, all probably under the age of 10. They were all extremely friendly and asked me my name.

As my Ethiopian team members told them about the study and asked if they would like to participate, one of the little girls grabbed my hand.

All the children were eager to participate in the study. As we followed them back to their houses, my other hand was grabbed by a little boy, and I was led off down the dirt road to their homes.  Walking from one house to another, my hand was never empty. At one point, two of the children had a little disagreement about who actually got to hold my hand.

When we finished our data collection and were saying goodbye, all the children who had followed us around came over to me and shook my hand, and we touched shoulders. In Ethiopia, when you greet someone you shake hands and touch shoulders with the person. There must have been six or seven kids in line to say goodbye to me. It was truly a heartwarming and memorable experience that I will carry with me forever.

Learning another culture through its food

By Karissa Magnuson
Student, Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine

I happen to love bread and carbs in general.  At home, I love making homemade bread and even have my own bread machine in my apartment, so I was curious about the bread of Ethiopia. The staple bread, although it is not really like our bread, is injera. It is most comparable to flatbread or possibly a tortilla or crepe. The main differences are its spongy texture and that it is made from a completely different type of grain called teff.

Teff is a cereal grass and is only found in Ethiopia. It is ground into flour and then is mixed with water and baked to make injera.

Injera is included in almost every native dish in Ethiopia, and it is often used to hold the dish, acting as both a plate and utensils.  Ideally, you use the injera to wrap up whatever you ordered inside like a seasoned meat and then eat both the injera and meat. (If you are like me, you end up using a fork at some point, because without a fork, it is quite a messy undertaking.)

Not only is injera used as an edible plate and utensil, it is also often the main course. For instance, the other night, our partners asked if I wanted to try Firfir. To me this dish looked like some sort of meat with mashed up beans served on top of injera. Well, I was having a hard time understanding the ingredients they were listing off, and they kept shaking their heads when I repeated back what I thought were the ingredients until I realized that part of the dish which I thought was meat was not meat but shredded up injera served in a sauce with seasoning.

So there you have it — injera — the staple bread of Ethiopia. By the way, for those who are gluten intolerant, teff is gluten free.

How to Make Injera:

After our delicious meal

After our delicious meal

Learning Amharic in Ethiopia: It’s for veterinarians, too


By Karissa Magnuson
Student, Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine

I have always loved learning foreign languages, and when I was in junior high, I considered the possibility of majoring in linguistics in college. However, my passion for animals won out, and instead of being a linguist, I am half way to being a veterinarian. It is nice to know, though, that despite my career choice, I can still enjoy learning foreign languages and incorporate my career and other interests together.

Today at lunch, fellow Ohio State student Korbin Smith and I invited one of our Ethiopian team members, Atnaf, out to lunch at our hotel. I decided to ask her about how their sentence structure works here.

Side Note:  I took German in high school and college and knew that in German if you wanted to say ‘ I would like to play football’ it would be like saying in English ‘ I would like football to play’. Well I was curious how it worked here because I was hoping to actually form a sentence by the end of the six weeks. We will see if this actually happens or not.

Anyways, Atnaf pulled out a piece of paper and started writing down their alphabet. The alphabet in Amharic is like little drawings. Each drawing represents a different sound. For instance there is a character that looks like a ‘u’ and is pronounced ‘ha’. From my understanding the ‘u’ for ‘ha’ is the root for other variations with similar sound/characters… i.e. ‘hu, hi, ha, h, ho’ which will look like the ‘u’ but may have an extra tail, circle, or squiggly attached somewhere on the ‘u’. They then have other root shapes with variations for a total of over 30 characters.

There are a few characters in Ethiopia with sounds that I could not make. For example, in Amharic they have a character that sounds like ‘Kkah’ but with an extra, barely imperceptible sound when pronounced. Korbin and I kept trying to say it, and she just kept laughing and shaking her head and then pronouncing it again. It requires some muscle in your throat or something that we as English speakers never have to use.

Anyway, it was a very interesting lesson, and Atnaf really enjoyed teaching us and appreciated our efforts to learn their language. Perhaps, by the end of the summer I will be able to write a sentence in Amharic.