I Saw the Face of Death Today: A first-person account from South Africa

Jun 17, 2013 10:00 AM ET

Guest blog from Rob Friedman, senior director of executive communications at Lilly. Rob describes his first-hand encounter with people afflicted with tuberculosis in poverty-stricken areas of South Africa. This is the first of two blogs underscoring the importance of our corporate responsibility efforts alongside partners in economically challenged areas of the world.

I saw the face of death today.

We were at the Fort Grey TB hospital, outside a squatter camp in East London, South Africa. I’d never seen a squatter camp—a kaleidoscope of makeshift shacks made of every material imaginable—scrap metal, plastic, wood, cardboard, rocks, bricks, mud. No electricity or sewers, few toilets, little-to-no clean drinking water. Piles of garbage border the camp. Some 30,000 people survive there.

At the hospital entrance, we were stopped by a gate with armed guards. They took down the serial numbers of our computers, to make sure when we left we wouldn’t be taking anything extra.

We were there to see firsthand Lilly’s work on multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, known as MDR-TB, and to shoot video of the hospital, staff, and patients to help illustrate what we do.

Long, low concrete buildings served as wards, divided by sexes. We wore surgical masks, but I’ll admit to some anxiety—the thought occurred that since TB is airborne, I had a better chance of contracting it than HIV.

Read more of Rob's life-changing experience.