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Haiti’s Wandering Street Pharmacies


In the Haitian capital city of Port-au-Prince, one need not be a pharmacist to sell medicine. All you need is a bucket and the willingness to roam the streets in the hot sun looking for patients.
For many Haitians, medicine is an ordinary consumer good just like candies or groceries are, and buying them off roaming street peddlers is the norm. As a matter of fact, actual pharmacies are hard to come by in Haiti, and these street dispensaries are the main source of medicine for many Haitians.
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Photo credit: Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti
As a street vendor, you have to make sure your display looks attractive, otherwise no will buy anything from you. You put the ampicillin next to the Tylenol so that the packet of pink pills form a contrast against the packet of blue pills. You arrange hundreds of multicolored pills in blister packs in a tower rising up from a tiny bucket, taking care that the colors look good together. A pair of scissors, used to divvy up the medicine, goes at the top. The whole thing is held together with rubber bands.
“The portable pharmacies look like contemporary art installations or candy store displays,” says photographers Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti, who have been working on a project about medical access in over two dozen countries. The duo have long been fascinated by the city’s wandering druggists.
Selling medicines this way is illegal, but the laws are rarely enforced by the Ministry of Public Health and Population. The government’s lack of oversight puts the lives of Haitians at risk by placing them in the hands of untrained sellers who dole out everything from abortion pills to Viagra knockoffs. Most of these are generic medicines from China. Others are expired pills and counterfeit drugs imported from the Dominican Republic. It’s like playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette.
The vendors also give out medical advice, some of which are bad such as prescribing powerful antibiotics for acne.
“People have no secrets from us,” says Rénold Germain, a medicine peddler. “They tell us about their infections, digestion, and sexual matters. For each problem we have a pill.”
Woods and Galimberti say they want to make people aware that access to medicine, taken for granted in developed countries, is a challenge in many places.
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Photo credit: Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti
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Photo credit: Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti
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Photo credit: Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti

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