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Nigeria is made up of at least 250 linguistic groups (which some describe as ethnic groups), of which 3 are major groups comprising over 60% of the total population. Although all of these groups share common major macro-culture and macro-traditions, each evolved its own micro-culture and micro-traditions in response to prevailing environmental circumstances. Traditional medicine and healing constituted part of the microcultural evolution.

In pre-explorers and pre-western trader's Nigeria, traditional medicine was the system of health care delivery. Traditional healing and medical practices included herbalists, divine healers, soothsayers, midwives, spiritualists, bone-setters, mental health therapists and surgeons. In spite of more than 150 years of introduction of Western style medicine to Nigeria, traditional healing and medical practices remain a viable part of the complex health care system in Nigeria today. In 1988, a casual survey in Benin City revealed that for every sign-post that indicated a Western-style clinic or office, there were 3 that indicated a traditional doctor. Although this traditional system of health evolved separately in different micro-cultures, there is a great deal of philosophical and conceptual similarities. The origin of diseases in Africa was simplistic. It is either an enemy had cast a spell on you or you are being punished by divine powers for your sins. Although the Arabs have had the distinction of early-organized medical services, there is no recorded evidence of the introduction of such services to Sub-Saharan Nigeria during trade interactions of the fifteenth century[1]. The same thing is true of the early Portuguese and English traders in their interactions with the Delta/Riverine areas of Nigeria during the later part of the fifteenth century.
The first record of modern medical services in Nigeria was during the various European expeditions in the early-to mid-nineteenth century. The earlier explorations of Mungo Park and Richard Lander were seriously hampered by disease. In the expedition of 1854, Dr. Baikie introduced the use of quinine, which greatly decreased mortality and morbidity among the expeditioners. It is still a subject of considerable debate whether the use of quinine by Dr. Baikie was his original discovery or whether he borrowed the idea from traditional herbalists with whom he had interacted in the course of his expeditions. Whatever is the true situation, the use of quinine both as prophylaxis against and as therapy for malaria fever, expanded exploration and trade.