Ecuador National Museum of Medicine

Located in Quito, the Ecuador National Museum of Medicine was established in 1982 by Dr. Eduardo Estrella Aguirre to preserve the unique aspects and heritage of South America’s indigenous medicines. This fascinating museum features indigenous food, nutrition and health, medicinal plants and medical archeology, as well as a chronicle of Colonial medicine in South America and the development of formal institutions of medicine, medical education and hospitals.

One of first Spanish expeditions to South America for the purpose of documenting the country’s indigenous flora was carried out by Juan Tafalla between 1799 and 1808. For two centuries this valuable information lay in the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens in the Spanish city of Madrid. On a visit to this institution in the early 1980s, Dr. Eduardo Estrella of Ecuador discovered this wealth of information and after careful research and study found that the descriptions in Juan Tafalla’s documentation corresponded to areas belonging to the Royal Audience of Quito – an administrative unit in the Spanish Empire which ruled territories including modern-day Ecuador and parts of Peru, Colombia and Brazil between 1563 and 1819.

Recognizing the value of Tafalla’s documents, Dr. Estrella set about the task of compiling and verifying the documents in volumes which are referred to as Flora Huayaquilensis. These were finally published, with the credit being given to naturalist and explorer Juan Tafalla. These important documents form the basis of the medical heritage displayed in the Ecuador National Museum of Medicine.

Other works by Dr. Estrella which relate to Ecuador and other parts of South America include El pan de América (Bread of America) which discusses the Aboriginal history of food in Ecuador; La medicina en el Ecuador prehispánico (Medicine in Prehispanic Ecuador); Salud y población indígena de la Amazonia, a paper discussing the proceedings of the First Symposium on Health and Population of the Amazon; Medicina aborigen (Native Medicine) discussing Aboriginal medical practices in the mountain regions of Ecuador; Medicina y estructura socio-económica (Medical and Socio-economic); and Función maternal y sexualidad, a study of the role of women in the rural population of Ecuador’s province of Pichincha.