March 22, 2008

The Glamour of the Missionary

For several years before moving here, it was impossible for me to read about the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and not say to myself, “I want to be there. I want to help.” Now I am and I am – more or less – helping. But not always in the way I thought.

For instance, a big part of my job that I have yet to write about is pill counting. All of the pills we hand out come to us in gigantic, industrial size containers of several thousand pills. We have the thankless task of counting them out into little pill bags, 8, 15, 28, 30, 60 at a time. There is absolutely nothing glamourous about this and it is hard to see the connection between this work and one’s desire to alleviate suffering.

I often have to remind myself that it is important. In this picture, I’m counting an antibiotic known here as cozole that is given to HIV/TB patients as a prophylactic. Because their bodies are so susceptible to disease, they take this drug to fight infections from the moment they begin, rather than when they begin to manifest in symptoms when it might be too late.

It’s not as rewarding as starting a library, it’s not as fun as playing the guitar, it’s not as nerve-wracking as testing someone for HIV, and it involves almost no interaction with the patients. (In fact, interaction is awful – it makes you lose track of your count!) But it’s important nonetheless.


Kate said...

jesse!! i have to do this too! count and count and count pills... haha i couldn´t believe the picture because i use the same type of tray, the same tongue depressor, and even the same prophylatic antibiotics (called Sulfa here since they´re sulfer-based). i haven´t blogged about it either, but it certainly is a part of the work. glad to know we´re doin some of the same stuff in our HIV units on opposite sides of the world.