The American Supreme Court today announced that it upheld the constitutionality of the controversial Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Obamacare). As pundits and politicians began to spin their “what’s this mean to you” conversations along the lines of their opposing idealogy, my mind turned to the availability of healthcare worldwide.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are a billion people worldwide with inadequate access to healthcare – and their governments don’t provide the safety net of the generous welfare packages common in wealthy nations. Health insurance, at the heart of America’s healthcare debate, is unheard of.
That dichotomy tore my heart into pieces when I visited Somalia in 1993. The memory of an emergency trip to the hospital with my then 7-month-old son was still fresh on my mind.
My son’s fever, which had been on the rise all day, caused me great concern. When his fever reached a certain point, the pediatrician said he’d meet us at the hospital. I cried with my son when the nurse poked a needle into his arm to treat his serious blood infection with intravenous antibiotics. We were allowed to take him home only after promising we’d bring him back every day for three injections of the same strong antibiotic. He recovered within a week. Between our insurance and our jobs, we were able to pay all of the medical costs.
A month later, I visited a refugee camp in Somalia, where Food for the Hungry (FH) was partnering with another organization to provide emergency relief.
As I walked by a group of hundreds of women and children quietly awaiting their turn to see a visiting doctor, a mother grabbed my arm. She said something in her native tongue, but it was her desperate eyes that pierced my heart. I had felt that kind of desperation when I drove my son to the hospital one month earlier.
This Somali mother, with whom I felt an instant bond through motherhood, pulled me over to her son, whose eye was infected, swollen and oozing. I turned to my host and said, “This boy needs help!”
The boy’s mother was delighted when my exclamation resulted in her son’s eye being covered with salve. The mother’s smile and thankful gestures warmed my heart as she and her son left the enclosure. Like most children in the developing world, I knew the boy would not have survived the kind of infection my son had so quickly overcome.
I don’t know what happened to the Somali boy and his mother. What I do know is that, even though his situation was extraordinary because of the disaster to which FH was responding, his healthcare plight was completely normal. Unicef and WHO reported in 2011 that one in eight children living in sub-Saharan Africa die before age 5. One in 15 children die before age 5 in southern Asia. That compares with one in 143 children dying before age 5 in developed countries. Many of the deaths in developing countries could be prevented with healthcare and changed health practices.
What are some of your thoughts about healthcare beyond America’s borders?