Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.
The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But ... the Good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
At only 5.5 pounds (10 pounds less than the fifth percentile for weight on the World Health Organization's growth chart), an 8-month-old boy suffered from severe malnutrition. In the summer of 2003, amidst the height of Liberia's civil war, his aunt brought him to the Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders hospital for treatment. Because of the war, his family had been forced to flee from their home, leaving behind their usual methods of getting food. Dr. Andrew Schechtman was there to help the day the child was brought to the clinic in Liberia (Figure 6-1). Despite the best available treatment for the malnutrition and concurrent pneumonia, the boy died on his third hospital day.
Dr. Andrew Schechtman was there to help the day a severely malnourished child was brought to the clinic in war-torn Liberia. Despite the best available treatment that could be provided in the Doctors Without Borders hospital, the child died of complications of malnutrition and pneumonia—a casualty of war and poverty. (Courtesy of Andrew Schechtman, MD.)
Those of us who become family physicians or other healthcare providers do so for many reasons. One reason is because of a desire to help someone else. Along the way, we sometimes lose ourselves in the day-to-day struggles, the disappointments, the obligations, the fatigue, and the profound helplessness that descends upon us after a particularly bad day. But we are still here and, if we listen with our hearts, we are still capable of great and small things.
We are privileged in so many ways and we must recognize our power over ourselves and over the communities that we serve. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the problems that we face as clinicians and as fellow human beings. Our healthcare system is in shambles, our natural world is being poisoned, our nations are continually at war, and yet, as this chapter highlights, there is so much that we can do—we can listen, we can observe, we can witness, we can bring aid, we can touch, we can love, and we can lead.
The text that follows highlights just a few examples of the ways in which our colleagues are challenging themselves to find creative solutions to the many problems faced by those who are underserved, displaced, or suffering.