African Agency in Medical Innovation and Practices: From Antiquity to the Present

Emmanuel Ndhlovu, David Mhlanga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Existing medical literature is dominated by descriptions of Africa as a mere consumer of Euro-West medical practices without acknowledging Africa’s role in medical innovation and practices. This article closes this gap, which has practical implications. The article aims to highlight the rise of medical practices in Africa from ancient times to the present. The article utilises a historical analysis of the literature available in both grey and academic literature. The sources used include books, reports, and biographies and were identified using terms such as African agency, African medicine, ancient technologies in Africa, and diseases in Africa as key terms. The articles were selected from the Web of Science and Google Scholar databases for standardisation purposes. The article shows that before the Europeans invaded Africa, more advanced medicine and medical practices such as disease treatment, immunisation through inoculation, and quarantine of the people infected or exposed to particular diseases already existed on the continent, while immunisation was only known in Europe after 1721. Africans used a variety of plants with salicylic acid for pain, kaolin for diarrhoea, and also extracts that Euro-West researchers discovered only in the 20th century to kill Gramme-positive bacteria. The article concludes that Africans have, therefore, never played a passive but rather a leading role in the fields of innovation and medicine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-340
Number of pages18
JournalAfrican Renaissance
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024


  • African agency
  • African medicine
  • Ancient technologies in Africa
  • Diseases in Africa
  • Medical innovation in Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Political Science and International Relations


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