Presidential Speaker on Diversity:  Padmini Murthy, M.D.

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By Carina Sorrentino

On Wednesday, Oct. 2, the Presidential Forum on Diversity hosted Dr. Padmini Murthy, who presented her talk “Global Health and Human Rights: Is There a Missing Link?” to an overflowing room of Union students and faculty.

Murthy, a graduate from Nagarjuna University in India, has spent her career educating others about public health and medical management.

She specializes in women’s health issues, and her work was honored by the Association of Medical Women in India earlier this year.

The speech began with a small documentary clip on the medical system in Chad, an extremely poor country in central Africa. In a country where health insurance is non-existent, women are forced to pay for the supplies necessary to deliver their children. Many do not make it through the birthing process.

Dr. Murthy explained that she chose to begin with this heart-wrenching introduction to “show what is really happening in the world.”

Women are subjected to such challenges that would never exist in the United States. Murthy addressed that there is a relationship between health and human rights, and there are violations occurring globally.

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a state of physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease. Although the WHO is dedicated to promoting and protecting the health of all people, there are many places in the world where healthcare is denied based on discrimination. Gender and socioeconomic standing are two of the main factors that influence the kind of care a person will receive in a developing country.

For instance, Murthy explained that 1.6 billion people in the world reside in slums, living in squalor and contamination. She credits this kind of “social exclusion” as a serious violation of human rights since clean water or sanitation practices are often scarce.

Dr. Murthy drew startling comparisons between health systems in the developed and developing worlds. She then explained how inattentive the world is to diseases that aren’t relevant in wealthy countries. In recent years, money has been poured into research surrounding AIDS, whereas diseases such as malaria are viewed as less important.

In an attempt to progress towards a healthier and equitable world, Dr. Murthy introduced the eight Millennium Developmental Goals (MGDs). These MGDs are hoped to be attained by the year 2015. The list includes: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and ensuring environmental stability.

Many of these goals are intertconnected. For example, children born to literate mothers have a 50 percent greater chance of living past the age of five. Globally, education is an important step that can then lead to the prioritization of health and equality amongst all people.

Murthy focused her conclusion on many culturally accepted forms of violence that, in her opinion, require attention from world communities.

Practices such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and widow cleansing negatively impact communities around the world.

Right now, she feels the challenge is finding peace for women and human rights. Dr. Murthy pointed out that educating people should come first in fostering open communication that will lead to effective solutions. “Empowerment is essential,” she stated.

In her presentation, Murthy presented a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”

It is not up to one country to change their culture or practices, and it is not up to just one person, according to Murthy. The point of MGDs is to involve the global community, the rich and poor, men and women, adults and children. A global understanding that human rights should be guaranteed for all people is necessary. Murthy’s talk encouraged members of the campus community to become involved in achieving these goals.

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