Institute for Global Health


Living on a Volcano: How to Sustain a Heritage of Healthcare? Perceptions of Health, Access, and Traditional Medicine among the Nabuclod Aeta, 23 years after the Volcanic Eruption of Mount Pinatubo


1. Marianne Jennifer Datiles, MPhil/PhD student (UCL School of Pharmacy Biodiversity and Medicines Research Cluster)

2. Prof. Michael Heinrich (UCL School of Pharmacy, Head of Biodiversity and Medicines Research Cluster)

3. Dr. Catherine Tuleu (UCL School of Pharmacy, Reader and Director of the Centre for Paediatric Pharmacy Research)


Through a combination of historical research and community fieldwork, this project assessed social and behavioural changes in perception of health and access to services following an indigenous Filipino community's displacement due to an environmental disaster- the 1991 Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption- and eventual return to the area.


Twenty-five members of the Nabuclod Aeta community were interviewed 23 years after the volcanic eruption to assess community perceptions of health and access to care, and explore possible change or loss of traditional medical knowledge as compared to historical sources (1)(2). Quantitative knowledge survey data was assessed by age group and gender and compared with historical source data. In-depth, qualitative individual and group interviews and follow-up interviews were conducted between July and October 2012.


The youngest age group's traditional medical knowledge consisted mainly of popular knowledge nonexclusive to the Aeta, while the oldest age group exhibited a specialized knowledge of their traditional pharmacopoeia. Qualitative data supported and contextualized these findings. There was a general agreement that there is still a need for traditional medicines due to the lack of year-round access to and affordability of healthcare services.


Perceptions of Aeta traditions and sense of self-identity among the Nabuclod community members were reflected in a multi-generational struggle to balance limited access to biomedical healthcare with disappearing traditional medical knowledge. To preserve, protect, and promote the medical traditions of the Aeta while ensuring the health and well-being of the community, culturally appropriate approaches to promoting biomedical healthcare services will be required as well as research and documentation efforts. 


(1) Fox, RB. (1952) Philipp. J. Sci. 81:173-414. (2) Pardo de Tavera, TH. (1901) The Medicinal Plants of the Philippines. (Thomas, JR Jr, transl.) Blakiston's Son & Co. Philadelphia.