Tanzania Day 2

4 06 2011

Looking east towards India. Never imagined I’d be saying that. Perhaps that’s why it feels good. But it’s quite a dubious statement, in a way. I mean, it’s pitch black out there. The tide has pulled back so far I can’t even hear the waves. And a twenty-foot band of trash defiles the otherwise bucolic beach to the left and right fringes of its reach. I’ve applied so much DEET that it’s probably repelling people as well as it is the mosquitos. That’s a small concession to make. The Campari is wearing off, and 6 am call will come quick and rude.

Today our subject and sponsor took his presentation to an assembly of officials from the national health ministry of Tanzania, including the head minister herself. She surprised us all when (whether for the cameras of to save lives, she only knows) she enthusiastically endorsed not only self-disabling needles but also the need for more comprehensive needle management, including storage and incineration of used syringes. It was a big step towards the adoption of a safe needle policy in Tanzania, which would be the first of its kind in all of Africa.

That these were exciting developments goes without saying. It’s great for our film, and it’s invaluable validation for the team that has been working tirelessly over the last few years to make this dream a reality. But this is only a step. Until those in power really walk the walk and mandate the self-disabling/self-destructive needle technology, it’s all just pomp and circumstance. Until the health care providers who are reusing dirty needles change their ways, it’s all just empty self-aggrandizement.

The plan tomorrow is to drive three hours into the interior of Tanzania (malaria country) in search of some serious back-water medical clinics that reuse needles as the standard of care. The WHO nightmare. Ironically, or so I have heard, deaths from the reuse of needles is double that of the deaths from malaria. Yet the WHO employs hundreds if not thousands of people in the malaria cause, while they keep only one part-time position to deal with the issue of contaminated needles.

Millions of lives hang in the balance. Like the litter problem presenting itself on the beach in front of our hotel, awareness and education are key. Better choices must be made by parents, and clinics cannot continue thinking that they can reuse needles. Babies deserve to pursue a happy and healthy life, not to be infected with HIV or hepatitis before they know how to walk.

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