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Friday, June 13, 2008 - Page updated at 11:52 AM

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A personal look at pills and poverty

I traveled through Africa in a bubble, thanks to money and Western medicine.

Pills that cost $7 each protected me from malaria. At the first murmur of intestinal distress, I could reach for Cipro. Shots from the University of Washington travel clinic fended off bugs that assault Africans every day: typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, pneumococcus, yellow fever.

Had I paid out of pocket for all my drugs, vaccinations and visits to the clinic, the cost would have been $1,085. Thanks to insurance, my co-pays totaled $189.

For the average Seattleite, earning the median income of $46,000, that's a small bite.

For a Zambian earning the average wage of $1,000 a year, the co-pays alone would gobble up more than two months' salary. That money could buy a new bicycle and put a chicken on the table every Sunday for half a year.

An African woman would walk 10 miles to market balancing a stalk of bananas on her head to earn the $7 my drugstore charges for one Malarone pill — the newest drug with the least side effects.

— Sandi Doughton

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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