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Palau Primary Health Care Manual: Health Care in Palau - Combining Conventional Treatments and Traditional Uses of Plants for Health and Healing

Palau Primary Health Care Manual: Health Care in Palau - Combining Conventional Treatments and Traditional Uses of Plants for Health and Healing by Stephen M. Dahmer, Michael J. Balick, Ann Hillman Kitalong, et al. Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2012. Softcover, 220 pages. ISBN: 978-1477446355. $40.95.

This book is the second healthcare manual produced by a multidisciplinary team of traditional healers, Western-trained healthcare workers, medical doctors, botanists, ethnobotanists, and local people — all engaged in the integration of conventional and traditional treatments and medicinal plants in Palau, Micronesia. The first volume, Pohnpei Primary Health Care Manual, was a groundbreaking book developed by some of the same visionary authors of this volume. This work and its predecessor are products of the New York Botanical Garden's Biodiversity and Human Health in Micronesia Program.

This Palau-focused volume is another gem of a book. It is so refreshing to read this book and to know that it is being distributed to communities as a tool to provide careful, respectful, and practical guidance on the application of some of the best therapeutic approaches to cross-cultural health and healing. I consider this book and approach to be the next step in the evolution of applied botany, ethnomedicine, ethnobotany, healthcare, and conservation. The Republic of Palau is the westernmost archipelago of the Caroline Islands in Micronesia, which are north of Irian Jaya and east of the Philippines in the geographic region of Oceania.

The people and institutions that created this book are a model for the future of integrated public health in biodiversity-rich nations. There are 18 authors and 36 local experts cited in the front of the volume — at least 54 people who collaborated to produce this publication. The institutional sponsorship includes the New York Botanical Garden, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Palau, the Continuum Center for Health and Healing service of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, and the Belau National Museum in Palau.

As the back cover of Palau Primary Health Care Manual states so elegantly, “The Republic of Palau in the Caroline Islands has a traditional medical system developed over many generations. The Palau Primary Health Care Manual compiles traditional ethnomedical information about plants and presents it within the context of Western medicine.” The book covers common health conditions, including some of specific interest to Palauan peoples, and provides information on approximately 80 plant species. According to the back cover, the healthcare manual “is intended as an educational manual for Palau and the Pacific region, an area where traditional medicine and some of the plants used in its practice, are endangered resources.”

The book is divided into 12 chapters that describe various health conditions and combine current Western medical knowledge with traditional Palauan botanical treatments; pharmacological efficacy and toxicity of each species also are included if such data exists in the literature.

The specific chapters focus on the following: preventive medicine in Palau (which is quite profound and well-articulated); chronic diseases (such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes); bites and stings; gastrointestinal disorders; skin disorders; cuts, wounds and broken bones; stress; pain; women’s health; men’s health; colds and flu; and finally, ear, nose, and throat issues. Each chapter contains multiple color photographs of the plants described, including, in most cases, details of the flower, fruit, root, or plant part that is used in ethnomedicine. Information on a particular plant used in traditional medicine typically includes local and scientific names, a description of the plant, habitat ranges of the plant, traditional use, and pharmacological properties and toxicology.

A list of voucher specimens linked to the plants also is provided. I was especially impressed by the 21-page bibliography, which will be useful to any specialist interested in following up on any of the information presented.

Overall, this is an excellent book that hopefully will inspire other local and international research consortiums to produce similar volumes. There has been a great deal of focus and concern in many sectors about the inappropriate use of traditional medical knowledge in the past decade. This publication represents the opposite: a highly integrated applied focus on enhancing and managing health of communities utilizing the best of all medical traditions and knowledge. I would love to see ethnobotanists, traditional healers, medical doctors, nurses, public health workers, community health specialists, graduate students, government agencies, and international funding agencies focus on the production of manuals like this to assist countries and communities in both the conservation and utilization of their biocultural diversity and management of community health. It is then that people working in the above-mentioned disciplines and organizations will want to own this book. This volume could be employed to stimulate discussion among communities and governments in other geographic regions of the world about what sort of manual would be most effective for that culture and region.

—Steven R. King, PhD

Sr. Vice President, Sustainable Harvesting and Ethnobotanical Research

Napo Pharmaceuticals, Inc.