Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 2129–2143 | Cite as

“All I Need Is Help to Do Well”: Herbs, Medicines, Faith, and Syncretism in the Negotiation of Elder Health Treatment in Rural Ghana

  • Eileen Smith-CavrosEmail author
  • Joyce Avotri-Wuaku
  • Albert Wuaku
  • Amal Bhullar


This qualitative research sought answers to questions about how elders in Agate, Ghana, coped with the challenges of illness in a rural village and in particular how they negotiated treatment for their illnesses within a flawed and limited healthcare system. In our study, 22 of 28 interviewees used all methods available to them (biomedical approaches [doctors and/or hospitals and/or doctor-prescribed medications], herbs, over-the-counter medicines [i.e., acetaminophen painkillers], and faith-based methods [praying/fasting/laying of hands/holy food and/or water]) in attempts to heal their illnesses. A syncretism existed in the negotiation of treatment options. All participants in our study used some form of what we term “Treatment Blending” (TBL), the use by a single participant of more than one of the aforementioned treatment methods for illness. Our research also revealed a widespread use of multiple spiritual systems (at the same time) and practitioner overlap (visiting a doctor, a traditional healer, and/or Christian pastor). Elders, in multiple cases, demonstrated the daily practice of one religion while seeking healing through another framework. TBL among our participants was a reflection of the lives elders lead in which illness and healing cannot be separated from the spiritual, the idea of an omnipresent God who is the ultimate “doctor,” and ancient African traditions of herbs and rituals that possess deeper meaning for both physical and psychological healing and well-being. This ran parallel with the syncretism of religion itself in Ghana and suggests possible related paths through which to improve the healthcare system for elders in rural Ghana utilizing local faith-based groups and the elders themselves to assist.


Faith Health Africa Religion Sociology Anthropology Medicine 



The authors would like to thank the villagers of Agate, Ghana for so openly sharing their stories and their wisdom with us. We are also grateful to the Chief and community council of elders for their assistance. Our friend and driver Chuku facilitated this fieldwork with his good cheer and knowledge about Ghana. Finally, we remember with gratitude the late Dr. Samuel Wuaku for his hospitality during our fieldwork and for his lifetime of medical service to the people of Ghana. Financial support for this project was provided through Nova Southeastern University President’s Faculty Research and Development Grant Project #335869.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human Rights

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for research involving human subjects were followed.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eileen Smith-Cavros
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Joyce Avotri-Wuaku
    • 1
    • 2
  • Albert Wuaku
    • 3
  • Amal Bhullar
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Nova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Conflict Resolution StudiesNova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA
  3. 3.Religious Studies, Department of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA)Florida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesNova Southeastern UniversityFort LauderdaleUSA

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