A few months ago I went to a local pharmacy somewhere in one of our towns. I had a small ailment that did not really need a doctor. I knew what I was supposed to get since I had previously bought the same remedy without a doctor's prescription."No problem. How many do you want?"
No further questions.
I noticed that the pharmacy was filled with lots of people. I overheard some asking for advice and being told to try this and that. The clients had genuinely trusting expressions on their faces. I soon realised that chemists are fast becoming significant institutions in Tanzania.
It reminded me of Latin America where I lived once upon a time. If you have a problem that requires antibiotics you can just buy them "over the counter." Chemists are among 24 hour, 7 days a week establishments alongside nightclubs and restaurants; usually well lit, with colourful and large letterings of Farmacia across major Latina cities.
It is the opposite in developed countries where restrictions are the norm. You would be lucky to find an open pharmacy after six o'clock daytime in Europe.And it would be unthinkable or next to impossible getting most medication without a valid doctor's recommendation.
Recently a friend wanted to buy something for her ailing aunt in Africa. She knew the medicine which is for dementia. She went to a pharmacy but was denied."We need a doctor's prescription," she was told. Unfortunately her aunt died last week. Sad news, indeed.
There are many sides to the issue.
Part of the argument for these controls, I am told, is legal. Pharmaceutical consortiums do not want to be sued for wrongdoing.That is however, not applicable in Africa or poor countries. Suing companies for wrongdoing is uncommon. In fact, Africa is always used as a dumping pit for dangerous, experimental and useless drugs. An excellent example is portrayed in the 2005 London film, Constant Gardener based on a novel by John Le Carré.
Constant Gardener tells the story of murders committed to hide evil deeds of a drug company using Kenya's population for dishonest testing of TB drug called Dypraxa.Dypraxa has harmful side effects and "disregards the well being of its poor African test subjects," according to Wikipedia. It is also a documented fact that Dypraxa is a multi-billion drug that kills people, says the Movie Spoiler site.
And that is Africa's tragedy.
Desperation drives the poor to seek medical attention by any means necessary. Doctors are expensive or unavailable because of corruption. A chief example is obstetric fistula, which has been tormenting our women for years. Fistula is caused by a hole between the vagina and rectum or bladder and vagina making women who just gave birthincontinent.
According to a study made by Women's Dignity Project in 2006 there are 2,500 to 3,000 new cases of fistula in Tanzania annually. Main cause of fistula is inadequate medical care and poverty. Eventually the women are ostracised, mocked and isolated because of social perceptions.
And it is this very ignorant perception and stigma that has been the subject of debate and discussion on social networking sites for days. A photograph of an allegedly Tanzanian woman with an overgrown backside was posted on the "Maisha Matamu" blog and sent to Facebook. "Maisha Matamu" is a popular site with over 150 registered followers.
Comments regarding the picture show an ongoing dialogue between males and females. Let us quote some of them without their names.Male states: "It is dangerous to invade other people's cultures." Female asks : "How do you mean?" Male answers: " I dont understand; has she stuffed her body with clothes or what? Her legs could snap up."
After several interactions, a male inquires: "How come she had got a pregnancy in her backside; how is she going to give birth?"
" That is a disease," a female explains. And finally reasons are given. A male wonders: "So why are they using Chinese stuff and it makes them like that? Why are they doing it for?"
A male eleborates: "They like being like that -they do it then it destroys their bodies."
Another male laughs: " Ha ha ha - it would have been great if it made someone pretty. But turning you so ugly."
And again another repeates : "That's the Chinese, my mate."
The constant insinuation that the Big Lady has blindly used Chinese drugs to enhance her wowowo expresses concerns about how our unregulated pharmacies and medical institutions are selling un-standardised drugs and steroids in a false hope of developing superficial beauty.
Mr Macha is a writer and musician based in London. Blog: www.freddymacha.blogspot.com