August 3, 2011
by Sara Sameshima
Ever since I went to Honduras two spring breaks ago for USC’s Public Health Brigades, I have thought about the importance of prevention and how at times it is even more crucial than treatment. This concept has been reinforced more than ever by our time here at Oxford. With our global health experience at Oxford entering its final week, I am now even more convinced that prevention is as equally important as treatment in creating an effective healthcare system, especially in developing countries. It may seem like common sense, but if it were common knowledge, then we would not have half as many health problems as we do today. Throughout this course, we have been given insight to our world’s most serious health problems, including tropical/infectious disease, sexually transmitted infections, obesity and non-communicable disease. Our professors are at the top of their fields and are undoubtedly experts in the epidemiology, prevalence, and treatment of the world’s issues. Though they come from a wide variety of backgrounds, it was obvious to me that there was an underlying theme between all: the importance of prevention.
Exhibit A: Vaccines, everyone’s favorite childhood memory at the doctor’s office, save thousands of lives a year because they protect and prevent us from deadly diseases. Dr. Susanne Sheehy, our lecturer on vaccinology, emphasized that vaccines are probably one of the most successful cost-effective interventions to date. Vaccines helped us eradicate smallpox! Exhibit B: Dr. Terence Ryan showed us the simple act of washing one’s feet goes a long way in preventing many of the developing world’s dermatological issues of the feet. Clean skin and proper emollients protect us from cracks/sores and subsequent infections. Exhibit C: Dr. Karina McHardy shocked us with the statistic that 80 percent of all cases of Type 2 diabetes would not exist if there was no if obesity. Obesity is such a worldwide epidemic and so prominent that it is even present in countries concurrently suffering from malnutrition – the “double burden” as experts call it. She stressed that obesity, a medical condition, is particularly tragic because it is such a preventable disease if one maintains a healthy lifestyle. Exhibit D: We may think of this as a no-brainer, but Dr. Lucy Dorrell spoke about Sexually Transmitted Infections and how the simple act of using protection would stop many cases of Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Trichomoniasis, etc before they even start. The good stuff.
This is just a small nibble of the sweet cookie of knowledge we have been treated to at our time here. (By the way, Oxford’s “Ben’s Cookies” is hands down the best cookie place I’ve been to. On second thought, we just had a talk about obesity…). I could go on and on about how each professor has enlightened us with the types of health issues plaguing our planet, but I think you get the picture. As Dr. Peter Sullivan reminded us, doctors are teachers; after all, doctor in Latin means “teacher.” I know for a fact this statement resonated soundly with all of us. As future medical professionals, it is our duty to ensure that our patients not only receive proper treatment for their ailments but to also make certain they learn ways to prevent it from reoccurring as well as ways to ward off other diseases.
“Give a man a fish and you will feed him for 5 days, but teach a man to fish, and you will feed him for a lifetime” or so the clichéd story goes. Dr. Merlin Wilcox, our lecturer on traditional medicine reinforced this quote when he presented the question: “What is left when you leave?” Treatment only goes so far when your patient does not have access to the treatment you administered on a regular basis. How do you help a community become more self-reliant in the developing world? There is no correct answer, but in my opinion, education is definitely a forerunner. Education about the importance of prevention seems like such a simple concept, even almost “common sense,” but really, it’s surprising how even the most basic methods of disease prevention, such as washing your hands, is still not used universally! My two weeks here has flown by thus far, but if there is anything that my fellow classmates and I need to remember from this course when we go our separate ways into the world, it is that sometimes prevention is better than a cure.
Sara Sameshima a senior majoring in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention as well as East Asian languages and cultures in USC Dornsife. Sara is from Honolulu, Hawaii.