Tag Archives: Medicine

Medicine man: a market education

Medicine man in a market in Boawae, Flores, Indonesia

Last year, the Wellcome Collection in London had a glorious exhibition of anatomical models, called Exquisite Bodies. They were accompanied by banners from the fairs and markets where these models used to be shown. In the prudish Victorian age, they were often the only glimpse people got of naked bodies other than their own. Part education, part pornography, all entertainment.

Anatomical model, bodyAnatomical model of head and face

In the country markets of Indonesia, these models still take pride of place, though I’m not sure “exquisite” quite describes them. The sellers of herbs, patent medicines and quack cures are the only people in the market with loudhailers, sometimes even electronic sound systems. They hang their stalls about with photos of largely naked inhabitants of Papua, Indonesia’s Eastern-most province and the source of many miracle cures. And they use their models to illustrate the many benefits of whatever it is they are selling. My personal favourite was the gentleman who covered his bets by selling large heaps of tobacco as well as “Raja Gunung”, the King of the Mountains, a herbal remedy guaranteed to cure lung cancer.

Indonesia’s antibiotic resistance mystery solved

Some years ago, when I was working on HIV prevention in Indonesia, we diligently treated sex workers for common infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, using national treatment guidelines. They were not cured. After much head-scratching, we sent some samples off for resistance testing. The results were pretty shocking. We found that 100% of our gonorrhea samples were resistant to tetracycline (marketed here as “SuperTetra!”), and 40% to Ciprofloxacin, the second commonly-subscribed antibiotic. (It took a shameful four years to change the national guidelines to include drugs that actually worked, and during that time we continued to use ones we knew didn’t work. But hell, it’s only hookers, right?…)

In an effort to find out why so many bugs in Indonesia are resistant to tera, cipro, amoxy and the rest, I went out to ask the nation’s pharmacists, Here’s one, helping with prescriptions in a market in Boawae, Flores.

Chile drug-seller in Indonesia