November 19, 2007

10 or 18 per cent?

A big part of what we provide in the clinic is over-the-counter drugs that the people of Itipini can’t afford on their own. Many people have pretty straightforward complaints – cough, fever, stomachache, diarrhea, etc. – that can be treated fairly easily. So we give them some painkillers or cough syrups or whatever and send them on their way.

There’s one catch, though. If you get prescribed a liquid drug, like cough medicine, you need to provide your own container to take it home in. The vast majority of people bring an old gin bottle, like the one in this picture. When I first arrived, I was convinced all our patients were heavy drinkers.What makes the situation even odder is that one of our cough medicines is 10 per cent alcohol and the other is 18 per cent. Some patients, I am convinced, know exactly what symptoms they need to complain of to get the 18 per cent syrup. Since we don’t formally measure any of our syrups – we just sort of fill up the bottle until it looks about right – patients will sometimes glare at you when you hand them their bottle back and say, “Kancinci!” (“It’s too little!”) It’s amazing the amount of colds people seem to complain of on Friday afternoons!