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None of us can afford to ignore the plights of other countries.
“What is IntraHealth anyway?”
A woman asked this as she approached our booth at a State Employees Combined Campaign event this year, where people who want to donate to good causes can connect to the organizations behind them. At first, I was glad she asked.
“IntraHealth International is a nonprofit based in Chapel Hill and our focus is on health workers,” I said. “We believe—”
“Health workers in America?”
“No,” I said, “our work is primarily international. We currently work in 31 countries in Africa, Asia, and Central Amer—”
“And what are you doing for Americans?” she demanded. “Me, I’m all about us. If you were worried about keeping the US healthy instead of sending money off to wherever, maybe we wouldn’t have so many problems.”
Global public health is everyone’s concern, or should be.
I was shocked. She walked off before I could tell her that global public health is actually everyone’s concern, or should be. None of us can afford to ignore the plights of other countries. The annual number of disease outbreaks around the globe has more than tripled since 1980 and increased air travel renders us all just one plane ride away from a worldwide outbreak.
Much has been written about global pandemics and the need to prepare and take steps toward prevention. However, recent policy shifts and proposed cuts to the US foreign aid budget point away from a solution. Instead of building on past successes to continue funding programming and policies that prevent the spread of diseases, the US plans to cut spending on things like family planning, which would in fact undermine the US government’s foreign policy commitments to maternal and child health.
I’ve been working at IntraHealth International for a solid decade, so you may think that when I hear stories like Hildah’s—a Zambian mother who finally found the courage, time, and facility to test her HIV status—I might be less susceptible to the pull of empathy. Or that learning about the health worker hiring surge in Uganda—which ultimately allowed Veronica to deliver a healthy baby after a long and difficult labor with the help of a skilled birth attendant—wouldn’t move me to tears thinking of my own labor experience.
But these stories always hit me hard.
When I first started working at IntraHealth, it was hard to understand the concepts of “systems strengthening” and “capacity building”. But now every time I hear about an epidemic like Ebola, Zika, Nipah, or other emerging diseases, I put myself in the shoes of a mother battling one of these diseases or trying like hell to prevent her children from getting it.
What will she do? What resources are available to her? What can I do to help?
Today we can order the best-rated blender on the market without even touching a button, but we still can’t eradicate communicable diseases. It’s upsetting and scary. Even from where I sit in the US, I’m not immune to a global disease outbreak. No one is.
But all hope is not lost. International NGOs like IntraHealth are working to make lasting, sustainable changes in global health. Your contributions can help make this a reality.
Lady from the charity fair, if you’re reading this: The world is so divisive right now, we’ve got to find causes to get behind— together. And one of them must be global health.
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