Freetown, Baby!

The Professionals by jc2010sl
February 9, 2011, 8:47 am
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Just when I thought I’d had my fill of the Sierra Leone health system, I was struck down with Malaria. Running a fever and feeling awful I dropped in on a doctor’s clinic for a quick blood test. First up was the comedy attempt to draw blood. After a couple of stabs into my finger, and several blood covered plastic gloves, I offered to prick myself and drop the blood onto the test paper. Malaria duly confirmed the doctor said she’d give me an injection followed by a course of tablets. After rummaging through a store cupboard that would put an untidy 14 year old to shame, the nurse pulled out some vials of colourless liquid.

She lumbered over with a needle, but before she could jab it into me I asked where the needle had come from. “It’s fresh,” she said, in a totally unconvincing fashion, “We’re professionals here”, “Well, neverless, I’d prefer if I saw where the needle came from.” After some huffing she duly produced what was indeed a fresh needle, and filled it from the vials. During the course of this a smile formed across her face, and it dawned on me that while I might be able to insist on a needle, she was going to have the last laugh.

I rolled up my sleeve to present the vein in my arm, but she waved me away. “On the bed, this will go in your boo-tocks”. Face down, pants round my ankles, my humiliation was complete. It seemed she drove home the needle with particular zeal. They then stuck me on a drip for an hour and I waited around for the doctor to give me my prescription so I could get home. After the doctor made it out, I asked where I could get the drugs “well, the pharmacy here closed an hour ago”, “you mean I’ve sat here for 2 hours while you knew what treatment I would need, and in the meantime the pharmacy has closed?” That was about the size of it. “There will be somewhere in town I’m sure.” At 8pm and groggy as hell, this was the last kind of wild goose I needed. As it happened, the first place I found was open, and even stocked the cocktail of drugs prescribed. Perhaps my luck has turned.



Moon Dust by jc2010sl
January 29, 2011, 2:59 pm
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The Harmattan winds must be blowing. There aren’t many visible sign of the sandy dust, but in common with others, my eyes are sore from the fine particles. I was sat at my desk the other day when a colleague noticed my eyes and asked if I was OK. “Nothing serious,” I replied, “just the dust.” “As long as it’s not Apollo.” Apollo, it turns out, is conjunctivitis. How so? I wondered.

Apparently, there was a particularly bad outbreak of conjunctivitis in the early 70s. This co-incided with a rather bizarre gift to the people of Sierra Leone from Richard Milhous Nixon – a small moon rock brought back from a recent mission. So people concluded that moon dust was causing the problems with their eyes. And the name of the mission became synonymous with the condition – Apollo.


Merecin Man by jc2010sl
September 23, 2010, 7:36 am
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The corridors of the Youyi building (where the Ministry of Health is based) are frequently peopled by hawkers and pedlars of various sorts. Some are itinerant salesman, knocking on your door trying to sell chewing gum or mobile phone credit. Others pick a choice spot, usually on a staircase, and ply their wares from a seated position. “Roast meat” that is, kebab, is a favourite, and I recently discovered a purveyor of the best rice akara I’ve tasted. The ubiquitous rip-off DVD seller is also in evidence, although the hits are Nollywood rather than Hollywood. I thought I’d seen all that Youyi had to offer.

Yesterday though I came across a new trader – the Merecin, or as we’d have it in English, the Medicine Man. He was doling out some sticky fluorescent yellow liquid to a man by his basket. The patient(?) shuddered momentarily and blinked. “What’s that for?” I asked. “Ulcers, headaches – try some.” I had a sniff – it was sweet and strongly alcoholic smelling. “What else do you have?” He proceeded to show me a range of herbs, liquids and powders that he claimed could heal just about any ailment. I was particularly intrigued by one syrup that could cure both high and low blood pressure. “Really?” I asked. “Oh yes” he said, quite offended.

“What does the Ministry of Health think about this?” I asked. “Oh, I’m licensed by the Pharmacy Board” he said. Somehow I wasn’t convinced and decided to give his elixirs a miss.


Dr SAS by jc2010sl
April 14, 2010, 5:02 pm
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It seems I’m not the only one in Freetown hitting the blogosphere. Thought you might be interested in this guest post on the Guardian health website from Dr SAS Kargbo, one of the counterparts I work with in the Ministry of Health.