Forest School for Traditional Health Practitioners - PROMETRA Uganda

PROMETRA Uganda was founded in 2000 as a response to poor health conditions in the country and inadequate modern health services. Its focus is on traditional health care, a form of medicine that is comparatively accessible and affordable. The mission of PROMETRA is to promote traditional medical knowledge and practices for the improved health of the people. It welcomes collaboration from other health care traditions. The philosophy of PROMETRA is to harness nature and promote good health, with the vision of a healthy, well informed and productive population.

The Forest School established by PROMETRA Uganda draws students from a radius of about 30 miles around the site (mainly from Mpigi, Butambala and Gomba Districts), thus extending its reach to a large area with a population of several hundred thousand people. There are an estimated 4000 Traditional Healthcare Practitioners (THPs) in the operational area. Since its founding, PROMETRA has enrolled 861 of these THPs in its training programme, those trained then being in a position to survey local needs and develop and implement local action plans to address problems of poor health in their localities. Many health issues are fundamentally connected to problems of environmental conservation and agricultural practices, and low income.

The Forest School is on a plot of land of about 30 hectares, blessed with a forest which acts as a natural pharmacy and a library of raw materials. The garden at the Forest School is not a neat manicured botanical garden in traditional mode, but rather a dynamic physical and social system devoted to healthcare improvement, environmental care and conservation of medicinal plants. Some of the main features of the garden include a patch of tropical forest of about 10 hectares (this forest is the training centre for the school), beds of medicinal plants (cultivated by the students as part of their training), a plant nursery, a demonstration garden of medicinal and traditional food plants, an apiary and fishponds (being developed). The buildings include a hall (also used as a clinic), a dormitory, offices, a traditional medicine processing plant (in construction) and an outdoor kitchen and dining room.

At this school PROMETRA has established a medicinal plant nursery for the production of seedlings. The process of setting up the nursery was initiated by PROMETRA and supported by THPs, who identified the most crucial medicinal plant species and food crops used for maintaining health and managing the common diseases of their localities. The nursery is conceived as the hub of a network for exchanging, propagating and growing plants. THPs are voluntarily contributing physical labor for the planting and maintenance of the nursery, while simultaneously building and strengthening their capacities to set up herbal gardens in their own villages. Thus far, 10,000 seedlings have been produced and many have been distributed to the traditional healers to initiate their own herbal gardens for the care and treatment of diseases. Besides the nursery, a demonstration garden of medicinal and traditional food plants is being established to assist traditional healers and community members. Forest enrichment and planting are also promoted for places in which important medicinal plants are not found. 

PROMETRA is concerned about the loss of fertility which is afflicting local soils and has established a demonstration garden to show practices of organic agriculture, including the propagation and care of staple crops, vegetables, fruits and medicinal plants. This has helped traditional healers and community members gain practical experience in the utilization of locally-available organic materials to manufacture and produce fertilizers and pesticides. This aids them in increasing their yields, controlling soil erosion and run-off, and saving money through sustainable and environmentally-conscious practices.

Traditional Health Practitioners attend a 3-year course at the Forest School. Students attend weekly (on Wednesdays), the typical weekly enrolment being about 100-150 people. It is emphasized that students attending the Forest School already are traditional doctors. The method of education used is based primarily on students exchanging knowledge between themselves to identify best practices, facilitated by the staff of PROMETRA.