Global health inequality gets personal
I have a personal anecdote about global health inequality, acquired the hard way. On my trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo last week, I felt an unusual bump under my neck on Day 2. I thought, well, it is probably just a swollen gland, some temporary reaction. After all, just being in Kinshasa -- with the dirt, the car exhaust, some of the food, the humidity -- probably compromises your immune system no matter what. Maybe it is the start of a cold from the air-conditioning. So I continued with my bioethics activities.
Except the lump started getting bigger. I started developing two competing amateur self-diagnoses: some sort of a glandual infection or a tooth abscess. I continued to work. Anyway, what doctor could I see about this, and even if I could get a correct diagnosis, would there be available medicine for whatever I had? It was all very doubtful. Eventually I stuck it out, got on the Air France flight to Paris with a massive lump under my chin, and flew back from Paris to Chapel Hill. By that time, the lump increased in size again, my head was aching and I started feeling chills. After a trip to UNC's Infectious Disease clinic, a diagnosis of lymphadenitis was established, and I was put on antibiotics. A few more days in the Congo, and I might have developed septicema.
I could have, using my privileged position and if I had worked hard at it, eventually found a suitable doctor, a correct diagnosis and the right drugs. And in the end, I could count on a flight out, a high-quality clinic and medication inexpensive relative to income. Which made me think: what happens to the Congolese who develop lymphadenitis? My guess is that some (most?) are powerless to do anything but watch the infection grow and eventually die from it. A horrible, unnecessary and unjust death.