By Jasmine Lu, Regular Contributor
I distinctly remember the day I feared for my life in a hospital. I was eight years old and had caught some fever while on my annual summer trip to China. Whatever that fever was, it scared my dad and grandma enough to take me to the hospital. At that time, I had never seen the inside of a hospital in China before and was expecting it to be more or less like home. Instead, I was shocked by how crowded and unstructured everything seemed. I remember watching my dad’s friend, who was like an uncle to me, confusedly waving around an uncovered feces sample in a hardly sanitary bathroom; I remember having to lay down in a tiny wooden cell neighbored by other patients and strapped to an IV; and I remember continuously asking my grandma how much longer I had to stay. Most of all, I remember the intense paranoia I felt. At only eight, I was terrified that I was going to catch some other disease due to the hospital structure.
This was almost ten years ago, but since then, I haven’t stepped foot in a Chinese hospital. Now, I’m sure the quality of care is much better, given how much wealthier Shanghai has become in the last decade and its status as a global hotspot, but back then, even my eight year-old self could tell that the hospital was significantly understaffed and under-resourced.
That was Shanghai, which has a standard of living much higher than many other cities. While my terror was real in that moment, looking back, my anxieties seem trivial when I consider the state of health care in less wealthy areas.
Remember the Ebola scare in late 2014? The media was all over the disease once a few cases appeared in the US, and in turn, the whole country was in a panic about potentially contracting the disease. Even when the CDC put out a statement that the likelihood of the disease spreading in the U.S. was extremely low because it was only transferable through body fluids, many people advocated for cutting off all flights from West African countries affected by the outbreak. Fear overruled empathy. These West African countries lacked the necessary health care technologies to fight this highly contagious disease, but discussion centered around the nonexistent threat to our own lives instead of why the disease was so widespread in these areas.
In the US, healthcare is so accessible that our run-ins with disease are significantly reduced or suppressed by vaccines or medications. Living well into our 80s and 90s is to be expected, whereas for many African countries the life expectancy isn’t even fifty. How is it that such a huge disparity exists even in our age of exponential technological growth and innovation? If we can dare to involve ourselves in the politics and economics of a country, I think we can dare to improve health conditions as well. We have a moral obligation to do what we can to free people from the shackles of disease and poverty.
Let's chat! How can we bring awareness to the lack of proper healthcare around the world? How can we break the barriers of fear and use are empathy to help? Tell us about your ideas here.
Jasmine Lu will be attending Duke University in the fall and will be pursuing a degree in Biomedical Engineering. She has many interests including global health, computer science, and film. You can learn more about how her mind works at her personal blog j-------lu.tumblr.com
image via changeceinstitute.org