This happened in 1977 in Kisantu health district headquarters in Lower Zaïre. Our medical team had decided to decentralize the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis (TB). As soon as the health center nurse would detect a TB positive sputum on his solar-lit microscope, the patient would receive treatment on the same day. That treatment would include streptomycin, a potent antibiotic drug. Our 50 health centers were scattered over a large district. As a result, patients would not need to travel to the hospital but get diagnosed and treated on the spot.
Figure 1: Visiting Kimayulu Health Center
As the key was trust in the nurses’ compliance with a standard protocol, we organized a refresher course on TB for all our head nurses. At the end of the nurses’ training, Makitu Samba, a veteran nurse took the floor: “Doctor, I practice nursing since 1947, which I think is the year you were born. Never until now did anyone entrust me with streptomycin, by fear that I would use it not to treat TB but to sell it to patients who suffer from gonorrhea. You are the first one to trust me and to trust my colleagues. I pledge here as the older of all of us, that not one gram of streptomycin will disappear”. Makitu and his colleagues held on to their promise. No streptomycin vanished to treat gonorrhea…
Last week, as I cycle with Claude on his tandem from Dover to Maidstone, I am reminded of Makitu’s story. I am leading the tandem, as Claude is blind.
Figure 2: My friend Claude
Over the 100 km I am making mistake after mistake, tired already of the first leg (124Km) that took us from Kortrijk, Belgium to Calais and Dover. I take an innumerable amount of wrong turns which cost us a lot of effort to get us back on track. We had to walk up several of the hills, as I failed to shift gears in due time. I even had a brush with an embankment of one of the narrow rural roads, causing my companion to get hurt. Frankly, if it was not for the unstinting trust Claude had in me, I would have given up. As we neared Maidstone, we had the good fortune to get a puncture just in front of a pub. A great opportunity to stop and have a British ale to celebrate our friendship!
On the front cover of “What makes us human?” Frederic Laloux states: “Trust makes ordinary people do extraordinary things”. This time around I was on the receiving end. Thanks Claude.