Global health should be universal concern

In my last column, I called you to action. Now it’s time to discuss the details. The theme is global health and the story is how you, dear reader, can save lives today.

It’s no secret that global health presents some of the most striking instances of injustice and inequality in our world. While we are lucky enough to enjoy lives of affluence at Yale, diseases of poverty, such as malaria and TB, continue to kill millions. As Wall Street rakes in record profits from multinational corporations, the globalization of health risks, like tobacco and unhealthy food, is causing a new third-world epidemic of chronic diseases. We may think our strong public health system can keep us immune from the problems of the developing world, but as AIDS and avian flu show, disease knows no boundaries.

I know you’ve heard these stories before, so why is the divide still so large? We feel pity, and we feel guilt, but we do nothing. Although stories of global health continually occupy the front pages, they easily fade into the back of our minds, supplanted by more pressing concerns like a problem set due Friday or plans for weekend fun. Do we not care? Are we bad people? Or have we not been given a chance to take action?

I like to believe the latter. In our era of 24-hour, sensational news, it is easy to feel powerless to help. Just like the never-ending death tolls in Iraq, solutions to our global health problems can seem out of our reach.

So today I write with a new message to wake us from our jaded status quo: We can do something right here, right now. The challenges of global health are huge, but the solutions can be surprisingly simple. Consider for instance the case of malaria, which is the No. 1 killer of children in Africa. For $10, an insecticide-treated bed net can be delivered to effectively provide a child with protection against malaria. We may not be able to save the whole world, but we can help millions avoid preventable illness. We can give millions a chance.

If the solutions are so simple, why haven’t we done anything about it? Well, action doesn’t come without actors. Governments often talk about global health, but the money doesn’t always follow their words. We’d rather spend trillions of dollars on mitigating the damage of civil war in Iraq, rather than on simple public health solutions that transcend partisan lines. Unfortunately, we as citizens remain all too quiet.

Here’s where you come in. We need champions of global health to take action. We need to educate our community about global health, we need to voice our concerns to elected officials, and yes, we need to put our money where our mouth is and support effective programs.

Students in particular are stepping up to this call for social justice in our world. Last month, I got a first-hand understanding of the magnitude of global health activism in New York at a kickoff for the Nothing But Nets campaign, which was organized by the New Haven-based nonprofit Americans for Informed Democracy. Within only one week, hundreds of students from all over our area responded and came to an event organized to send a simple message: Bed nets can save lives. Other organizations such as the NBA and the U.N. Foundation are getting on board, and the Gates Foundation has just announced that it will match every individual’s bed net donation. The momentum building around global health today is simply extraordinary.

Now it’s time to bring this same momentum to Yale. Global Health Week starts this Saturday, and it features a ton of events that everyone can participate in. Throughout the week, we’ll be raising money for Partners in Health, which is doing great work in the field, and we’ll be advocating to improve global health opportunities on campus. Yale has talked much recently about being a global university, and now we as a community need to make sure it keeps its promise.

One week is never enough to combat the challenges of global health, but the greater problem is to do nothing. This week, let’s take the first step to building a better world.

Robert Nelb is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.

Comments