A horrific photograph of a hungry vulture stalking a starved girl from Sudan, waiting to prey on her, caused the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Kevin Carter, to commit suicide the same year.
The inexplicable human suffering in this image underscores why events such as the conference that took place this past April 16 and 17 are necessary.
Last weekend, 2,000 professionals and students united to discuss the health of international populations at the 2016 Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale University.
Through my attendance on behalf of Union’s Red Cross Chapter, I gained an appreciation for the innovative global health initiatives of today that have enabled many to live higher quality lives; but also, I gained a certain level of skepticism as to whether our efforts for those suffering abroad are truly being carried out in the most efficient, unified way possible.
The goal of the majority of the nonprofits at the event seemed two-tiered.
The first goal, and perhaps the more obvious of most global health related organizations, is to relieve human suffering in the present.
The second, equally important, goal is to prevent the children of the present generation’s children from suffering the way their parents did. Jane Aronson, former pediatrician, and current CEO of the Worldwide Orphan Foundation, emphasized that one of the critical techniques to achieving positive outcomes on the international adolescent populations is what she called capacity building.
A form of psychosocial work, Aronson stressed the importance of building the capacity of little kids “to discover, to be open to life.” Capacity building means more than allowing orphaned children in less developed nations is to meet their basic needs; it means empowering them to be the leaders of their countries in the future.
Aronson passionately remarked that “to really help youngsters, you need to have an impact that changes the way kids view their lives.”
I found research, done by Hiren Patel, an emergency medicine physician and current MPH student at Harvard’s School for Public Health to be extremely noteworthy. After studying the first-ever emergency department in Kenya, Patel found that most people living in Kenya do not know their current HIV status.
Perhaps more surprisingly, after studying over 1,000 patients admitted to the Kenyan hospital, Patel found only 3 deaths in the ED. Of course, the most likely explanation for this was not that the ED had found the Cure for preventing death, rather, because those who were extremely ill never came into the ED until they were already dead, they were not included in the study.
I was shocked not by the unawareness of particular communicable diseases like HIV in the Kenyan region, but by the likelihood for those who were on the verge of death to not visit the ED.
On top of an utter need for more EDs in this underserved area, Kenyans seems to be in urgent need of education to maximize the use of available resources. Patel’s research highlighted an often overlooked dynamic in where funding ought to go: teaching the less fortunate how to maximize utility of what they do have.
Although various presentations by researchers such as Patel and nonprofit presidents like Aronson and other CEO’s did unquestionably warm my heart, I pondered whether our efforts for those suffering abroad are truly unified in nature.
That is to say, could we be helping more individuals if the efforts of one nonprofit worked with another, rather than almost seemingly competing with one another for funding?
One of the more startling things I took away from the conference was that in an extremely philanthropic setting, the saturation of nonprofits makes for an extremely competitive market. On some level, nonprofits compete with one another to help those suffering abroad, which seems somewhat counterproductive.
While in some respect the competitive market for funding does lead to the most capable organizations getting funded, in another, it means that someone willing and motivated to relieve a suffering population abroad became less able. I remember sitting front-row on a presentation by Teju Ravilochan about his company, Unreasonable Institute, which gets entrepreneurs the funding they need to scale their projects.
During an interactive activity, I worked with two middle-aged men, one who currently runs a nonprofit in South Africa, and another who is starting one in Iran this summer. I immediately wondered whether the man looking to start a new nonprofit was trying to solve a problem in his homeland in the best way possible.
Were there other, more developed organizations already in place which he could support instead? Also, was the work done by the man who works in South Africa similar to an initiative already funded by Teju?
While the merits of social entrepreneurship certainly hold their appeal to individuals including myself, I remain hesitant to definitively say that every philanthropic organization out there truly solves a unique purpose, or if the suffering international populations out there would be better served by a more unified approach from those who truly do care.
Professor Siegrist, director of entrepreneurship at Harvard’s School of Public Health remarked that collaboration is a key to success in public health; in my opinion, there is a lack of this in the global health market.
It seems almost taken for granted that every single thing you or I were born with was due to mere chance. Any of us could have been significantly less fortunate. It could have been someone waiting in line to spend $5 on a cup of coffee. It could have been myself as I type in a brand new, lavish academic building.
It could have been your parents. When we realize that anyone, including yourself, could have been the innocent child stalked by a vulture, soon to be an animal’s prey, we become more willing to accept that it is our duty and obligation, not our voluntary discretion to make the world just a little more fair.
As esteemed philosopher of the 20th century Peter Singer said in his Famine, Affluence, and Morality, the “suffering and death occurring [is] not inevitable.”