Sunday, October 19, 2008

Maasai Medicine

Doctor “Action” Jackson (shown below, with the BEAM 2008 class) runs the local medical clinic in Talek, and has been a good friend to the residents of FisiCamp for many years (it’s nice to be on good terms with a doctor when you work with bone-crushing predators). While the basic principles are the same, third-world medicine is a world away from the health care system with which we are so familiar.

The clinic consists of a waiting area, two tiny examining rooms, and a storage room that doubles as a treatment area (shown below). With no access to the expensive hospital equipment on which American hospitals rely, Jackson’s shelves are stocked instead with cotton balls, alcohol swabs, and painkillers. However, his knowledge of medicine is impressive and he relies on common sense and resourcefulness rather than high-tech treatments. He has even fashioned a simple, solar-powered centrifuge from a Tupperware container and a tiny electric motor.

Jackson sees dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of patients each day. On the busiest days, there’s a line way out the door of the clinic, and patients must wait for hours to be examined. In order to make medical care widely available, he keeps his rates very low; adults pay 300-400 shillings (about five dollars), and children are usually charged just 100 shillings (less than two dollars). If a family can’t afford treatment, he often pays out of his own pocket. Livestock is the major form of currency among the Maasai, so Jackson sells cattle in order to fund his work and keep the clinic running. Here's two Maasai "mamas" waiting to be seen by Jackson.

According to Jackson, malaria and pneumonia are the top two causes of death of Talek residents. However, Jackson also has lots of experience with conditions that are less familiar to us Westerners. Obviously, life in the bush can be dangerous, and Jackson treats more than a few animal attack victims per month. Lion and buffalo are the biggest problem animals; however, a few days ago when I dropped by to see Jackson, he was treating a man who had just been mauled by a leopard. Deep, bloody gashes covered the man’s arms, hands, and head. What amazed me most, however, was that the man was walking, talking, and able to return home the very next day.

While his knowledge, generosity, and passion have been embraced by most locals, Jackson has also made some controversial moves. By speaking out against female circumcision, as well as against some cultural beliefs regarding HIV and other STDs, he has made some enemies who condemn his disregard for valued Maasai customs. Despite these adversaries, however, Jackson continues to provide low-cost, innovative care to the residents of Talek.


Anonymous said...

Is there anyway someone could donate to Mr Jackson's clinic?

Kate said...

Certainly! Jackson always appreciates donations of medical supplies or funds. If you're interested, email me at to arrange it.

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