Dr. Henderson in Africa
By David Henderson
There has been a lot of discussion on this blog lately about why there are so few doctors in America. (If you want to follow the discussion in order, see here for Garett, here for me, and here for Bryan).
My guess is that I will be unable to persuade zdc. My guess is also that zdc is an American doctor. Still, I think it’s useful to consider the range of ways doctors have practiced modern medicine at other times and in other countries. Exhibit A is my late uncle Fred, Alfred G. Henderson, Jr. He and my late aunt “Jamie,” a nurse, were medical missionaries in the Belgian Congo. Life magazine did a big story on their mission in the June 2, 1947 issue. Some excerpts from the story:
The Hendersons arrived at Monieka in November 1945, more than 4 and 1/2 years and 23,000 miles after they had set out for the Congo. En route to Africa in 1941 they were on the Zamzam, the ship which the Nazis torpedoed, as reported in LIFE (June 2, 1941). Dr. Henderson spent 2 and 1/2 years in a German prison camp before he escaped to Switzerland, where he was interned until 1944.
When he got to Monieka his first move was to paint the tiny brick hospital. Before the paint had dried he performed his first operation on a native with a strangulated hernia. Tossing a blanket over the still-wet table, he operated. Overhead mosquitoes wheeled about the gas lantern. A crowd of curious natives leaned in the windows. In one corner of the operating room stood a relative of the patient to see that no internal organs were kept by the doctor to be used for black magic. News of the patient’s recovery spread rapidly and within a few days lines of natives formed outside the hospital.
Although Dr. Henderson sees only a small number of his potential 60,000 patients, he averages 300 outpatients a day. In a normal week he performs at least six major operations and a dozen others. He is so overworked that he has trained one of his male nurses to perform some operations. He was the first man to perform a thyroidectomy in the Congo and was besieged by 20 other thyroid patients in one week. [Italics mine.]
By the way, because this is an economics blog, it’s important to point out that he didn’t give medical care away. Here are the captions underneath two of the photos. Under a picture of my uncle with two patients:
Henderson accepts cash or copper anklets in payment for treatment of natives.
Under a picture of my uncle and aunt:
Congo clinic is held in native village by Dr. Henderson while his wife mixes medicines at table. Natives flock into villages when missionaries arrive. Dr. Henderson charges $2.73 for all abdominal operations, 68 cents for maternity cases, 11 cents for tooth extractions.