The Greek word φάρμακον (pharmakon) once meant both the substance that cures or the substance that kills. Depending on the quality and quantity of the mixture, as well as the use, it was either a remedy or a poison. The word has lost its ominous meaning, except when it comes to street medicine.

My name is Pap Talla and I was born and raised in Senegal. I dedicated my studies and my work to human development and the fight against poverty. When we think of development, we need to remember that our mission concerns the human. The goal is not economic growth, inclusive societies, or a better environment. No, these are but means to the ultimate goal: the promotion of human dignity, human liberty and human well-being.

It starts with health. Of course, health needs to be affordable. But does life really have a price? Imagine having to work all week like every day is Monday, earning 30.000 FCFA (US$52) a month and having to take care of three children. With time and money issues, sometimes due to cultural shyness, you might be tempted to buy cheap and accessible medicine down the corner rather than lose a day’s worth of pay waiting for your turn at a packed public hospital waiting room.

But drugs are delicately measured mixtures of carefully chosen components that no street dealer can duplicate. They are licensed products that not anybody is allowed to sell, precisely because they target directly the essence of our lives: health. Sometimes, choosing a medicine in the street means buying your own death. The sellers are criminals who prey on poverty and sickness.

Public authorities try to improve facilities, legal authorities try to lift obstacles to the diffusion of treatments, pharmaceutical companies enhance the distribution of the most common and essential medicines. But those efforts crumble without a foundation: awareness. Let’s care for ourselves enough to value our own health. We need to realize that street medicines are nothing but unidentified drugs, then we’ll know better than to choose hazard over health.

Like any drug dealing activity, it is hard to pinpoint and trace. The best weapon at our disposal is our conscience and awareness. Let’s say it over and over again, let’s shout it and reach out and keep on repeating it until the phenomenon dies like any parasite with no organism to feed on.

Do we really want to trust drug dealers with our health? They are the parasites, and the organism they feed on is the trust we offer them in contexts of poverty where we believe there is no choice. But when it comes to health and life, there is always one choice: the choice of prudence.