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Avoiding the Burundian Health Care System, Just Barely

"In the dry season of his thirty-third year, Michael Tannenbaum was run over by a parliamentarian riding a motorcycle."

Mike took a Wes Anderson approach to his incident last week. His knee's a little banged up, but nothing serious. He was crossing the street, on foot, at a busy intersection that we have to walk through nearly every day, when a motorcycle hit him. And it wasn't just any run-of-the-mill moto-taxi driver. This was the personal bike of a member of Burundi's parliament. We can laugh about it since no one was seriously hurt. But the danger from auto accidents here actually is no laughing matter.

Probably a greater health risk than contracting malaria is having an auto accident. They happen all the time because of the lack of any sort of safety and driving training for the local population. (Yet they have numerous Auto-Ecoles here. I can't figure out what they're teaching.) All we can do is try to take care of ourselves on the road to avoid accidents. There are no medical or emergency services that are any where near American standards of care. I've met several doctors and nurses, and they all genuinely work hard. Some have even been trained in France and Belgium. But even the most well-intentioned doctor can't do a good job under the working conditions here. Training is usually sub-par. Health worker salaries are dismal. Equipment is always broken or missing. Many hospitals do not have electricity 24 hours a day. When a friend broke her arm, she went to five different clinics before she found both a working x-ray machine and a technician who knew how to use it properly.

We do our best to stay healthy and in one piece. Sometimes maybe we border on paranoia with our carefulness. But you never know. Even when you look both ways before crossing the street, a motorcycle driven by someone who is virtually above the law could come out of no where.


Diane H K said…
Eileen said…
I bet you spend a lot of time weighing the perceived need to go to the doctor with potential outcomes. Here (Chile) people treat going to the doctor like a sport. One that doesn't require a helmet.

Glad everyone's okay!
Digger said…
Thanks for setting up the pets group!

I have added a link to your blog to my blogroll at

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