You may have seen the recent publicity about next week’s speakers, concert, benefit dinner, panels, Master’s Teas, film screening and “Dance Off” relating to global health. Some have incorrectly speculated that these events are designed for future doctors or those particularly interested in medicine and will likely not appeal to the general Yale population. In fact, this is not the case. As we will attempt to illustrate through the week’s events, global health is relevant to all of us.
Our movement, starting with this year’s Global Health Week at Yale, is aimed at humanizing disease, dispelling the countless myths surrounding the feasibility and effectiveness of large-scale medical initiatives in the developing world, and inspiring students of all disciplines at Yale to re-examine the role they play in healing the world’s destitute, impoverished and ill. We aim to bring attention to ways undergraduates can profoundly impact the treatment of disease, why misery and disparity exist in the medical world and how this cycle of inequity can finally be broken. This is not an impossible task.
Unfortunately, similar efforts to raise awareness about global health often obsess unnecessarily over statistics aimed at shocking others into action. How many times have we seen incomprehensible figures strewn across the page while reading about world poverty or disease? Ironically, this type of “gloom-and-doom” technique tends to have the opposite effect, portraying the transmission of disease as a virtually insurmountable problem in the developing world, while ignoring the need to showcase the humanity behind the numbers. In effect, this tactic — which promotes the idea that failure is inevitable — succeeds only in discouraging listeners from taking action. If so many people are dying, we say, how can my involvement even scrape the surface of the problem? Moreover, only through recognizing the humanity behind the statistics can we acknowledge the basic right to medical care of all human beings. As doctor and anthropologist Paul Farmer asks so eloquently, “If access to health care is considered a human right, who is considered human enough to have that right?”
We, too, are disheartened to see how bureaucracy and corruption, political instability, graveyards of ineffective and overlapping NGOs, and a lack of basic resources have impeded effective treatment of disease in the developing world. Such frustrating realities, however, need not prevent or discourage us from thinking positively. The variety of speakers — including Yale professors, international physicians, political figures etc. — and the diversity of performances and other opportunities throughout our week aim to highlight past successes and the hope for a more just future in the medical world. In understanding the true potential for change, we hope to fuel the movement within the college-aged population to reconsider our own complacency. How can we remain apathetic or unaffected? And perhaps more importantly, how can we act effectively?
To begin with, we should question the role that powerful global institutions, such as Yale, could play in the treatment of disease, in the distribution of necessary medical supplies and in equalizing the distribution of resources. How can an institution as well-endowed and influential as Yale not play a larger role in this global effort? Why shouldn’t Yale place more pressure on drug companies to reduce prices for treatment of disease in developing nations, establishing health-related policy and reaching out to reputable NGOs in need? These questions cannot be ignored.
Establishing a partnership between Yale and the larger global health movement is at the core of our initiative on campus. Through the Yalewide fundraising campaign beginning this month, we hope to provide broad-based support to the world-renowned organization, Partners in Health, in its efforts to bring equity to health care in the developing world.
Secondly, we must realize we’re not alone in our desire to reach out to the suffering. All too often, we feel pressure to live self-serving lives defined by high-paying salaries and extravagance, but shouldn’t we instead grapple with a greater moral question? In realizing that curing disease is as simple as basic medicine or mosquito nets, don’t we have the profound obligation to respond?
Although not all of us can dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to serving the destitute, we can certainly take small actions to effect change and, in turn, forward the movement toward justice and equity for the world’s forgotten.
Gerald McElroy is a sophomore in Davenport College. He is one of the organizers of Global Health Week at Yale.