August 3, 2012
By Jun-Gi Min
The 2012 Global Health seminar at Oxford University taught me many things. I gained insight on what it means to be a premed student, the responsibility of the medical career that extends far beyond the States and into the developing nations that are struggling to provide the most basic forms of healthcare. I realized just how little I knew about the world around me, about the struggles of infants to survive to age five and the fraud drug companies that take advantage of the poorest and the weakest. I even learned that it is imperative to take an umbrella with you to London in this time of the year, no matter how sunny and how certain you are that it cannot possibly rain.
But most importantly, this class has taught me that the bane of contemporary efforts to improve global health lies not necessarily with the amount of money that goes into saving lives (which is obviously short of the amount needed to deal with this global issue), but rather with the modern outlook on how this is to be done. The western world has made the development of medicine into a search for the “silver bullet,” a crusade for the miracle cure that will rid the world of its problems. It is an incessant climb to the top, as governments pool money on expensive technology for research on the newest cure that the majority of the world cannot even afford. What the developed nations don’t realize, however, is that this gargantuan edifice that represents the history of medicine, formed purely out of desire for progress, ignores the importance of a strong base and ultimately cannot sustain the rest of the world that do not have the resources to benefit from these advances.
Take, for example, the situation in Africa. The reason why so many are dying of Malaria is not that the antimalarial medicine is not potent enough, but rather that there is none available to patients due to its relatively high price. The reason that so many children are sick is not solely due to complicated and incurable diseases like AIDS, but due to malnutrition that has nearly the same effect in terms of diminished immunity. The reason that villages succumb to common diseases is not because not enough technology is available, but because there are not enough health care professionals to care for the sick.
What I really appreciated about the speakers in this seminar is that they understood that the solution to the problems in the developing nations did not lie in the newest technology but in the adaptations of the old. Dr. Sullivan taught us that before spending so many resources on trying to eradicate complex diseases like Leukemia, it would be more plausible to pass out inexpensive iodine pills that would promote metabolism and save just as many lives. Dr. Ryan showed us that instead of relying on expensive cures for Elephantiasis that the Indian villagers cannot even afford, resources should be diverted to research on traditional medicine and yoga, which are effective treatments readily available to the natives. Dr. Merlin Wilcox suggested that more than trying to combat diseases using technology that we do not have yet, it is important to improve the basic healthcare system of the developing regions in order to equip the people to deal with any disease. These speakers understood that in order for the world to obtain an adequate level of healthcare, the solutions must be inexpensive and broad enough to be readily accessible to the developing nations.
In the world today, 150 million children are malnourished, and of those 5 million will not make it to age five. There are still 500 million cases of Malaria per year, a fully preventable and curable disease that still wreaks havoc on populations world-wide. Most villagers don’t even have a trained doctor available to them, and those that do have medical facilities face severe shortages of both time and space. To even begin solving problems such as these that the developing nations face in achieving healthcare, we must put on hold our desire for technological progress and be willing to take a step back. We must search for solutions that may not necessarily be new or the most advance, but the ones that are effective in each individual region according its resources and needs. Only then can we say that we are truly making progress in providing medical attention for these impoverished nations.
Jun Gi Min is a sophomore Biology major from Dublin, California.