A strange thing happened to me on Tuesday.
A man walked in as I spoke to the doctor and said hello. I said hello back stiffly, to signal my displeasure. He proceeded to turn to the doctor and tell her he was there to sell her some ‘good drugs’. The doctor must have noticed my angry face because she told him to ask for my permission and I declined to give it. He looked shocked; like he would always sell drugs with a patient present, during their consultation.
I have thought about this incident more than once since it happened and especially thought about what it means for health care in a context like the one I was in.
Here I was, in Mathari Hospital, a place whose name is a shorthand for whatever Kenyans perceive madness to be. The sales rep probably imagined that the crazy lady would not be connected enough with reality to object. Well, I was.
There is a notion that poor people want different things when they see a doctor; that they deserve different things. I think that we all deserve the same things: respect, kindness, dignity, honesty, fairness.
I paid, for the consultation with the psychiatrist, KSh 50; same as a person without a college education, a person who is experiencing a psychotic break, a person there for review after being released from a ward.
Today, a friend used a public clinic for the first time. He was astounded by the amount of time he had to wait (4 hours) and by the quality of the medical care (superb) because he had certain assumptions going in.
The way to solve some of the issues that ail our system of health care might then be this: put the educated, the assertive, the privileged in these settings. Task them with interrogating it, testing it, forming it from the inside.
See things change for the better.
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