27 August 2005

Stop this horrible injustice.

I have learned a lot of things here in Brazil but this past week I've solved a life-long mystery. It was one of those little mysteries that you don't think about at all most of the time. It usually formed itself in my mind as, "Why do so many people have cigarette burns on their arms?"

I guess being exposed to Terminator II at a young age formed some connection in my mind between round scars and cigarette burns. I was outraged when I saw people with these scars on their arms. Who was going around mutilating the epidermis of so many people? They must be stopped! But until I came to Brazil, seeing some with such a scar was a relatively rare occurence.

I must say, before I arrived here, I was more than a little skeptical of my initial cigarette burn theory. But after a few days in Brazil, I abandoned it completely. Not knowing if it was a social taboo, I eventually gathered the courage to ask some one what the scar was all about.

Turns out it forms in response to the Bacillus of Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine. It is given to millions of children around the world to lower the risk of contracting Tuberculosis. In the more developed world, includingd the US, it is not recommended.

Knowing the truth about the scars did little to squelch my rage directed at those propogating this injustice. I am not arguing against the use of the vaccine, which I assume has saved many lives. I am arguing against the location. To what end are we scarring the beautiful arms of our people? Why not give it in the bum or some other more discrete location? The only responses I could find to these questions were
By convention BCG scars are looked for over the left arm & hence it is easier to recognize for the doctor when parents do not remember whether BCG was given in the past or not.

Reading and interpreting ...[the test] is as much an art as a science. And the results are dependent on many things, one of which is probably the site at which the test is done. If the test is done on thicker, hairier skin it may be more difficult to read and know what the reading means - so to get the best and most useful results it's probably best to have it done on the inside of the forearm.
I was very unimpressed by the "convention" argument because we can easily start a new convention! The second argument at least sounds more reasonable (the scar is one sign that the vaccine worked; a benefit -- not without a cost -- of its being visible). Comments are open for suggestions of alternative sites. How about the side of the hip or inner thigh?

In any event, the scar is so ubiquotous here that it doesn't seem to bother anyone too much. This is a phenomenom that accompanies another massive mutilation technique that will be the topic of a future blog.

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