By Kimberly J. Soenen
Recent and ongoing world events demand attention, thought and a critical reTHINK about health, healthcare and Public Health.
There is a common denominator between what’s unfolding in Afghanistan, the ongoing mass shootings in Chicago, the lack of infrastructure in Haiti, the overburdened hospitals in the United States and the persistent politicization of healthcare: Disregard for health and Public Health.
Wherever there exists poverty, hunger, thirst, disenfranchisement, oppression, segregation, domestic militarization, and algorithm colonization, a vacuum for violence, corruption and the playground of bad actors is forged.
What we are witnessing now, on a daily (hourly) basis internationally, is the manifestation of disregard for the human mind and body, which are interconnected, as we all are. The Covid-19 virus, and the way in which it travels, underlines this reality.
The traumatized child in Afghanistan, the Covid patient who cannot afford health maintenance costs, the woman in Port-au-Prince who cannot access a surgeon after digging her husband out from the rubble, are all experiencing this pervasive disregard and indignity.
But this disregard isn’t in Kabul or Portland or Englewood or Miami or Sierra Leone or San Salvador or Brasilia or Kyiv. This disregard and indignity lives in the human mind.
Indignity lives in executive board rooms, in the halls of the Rayburn Building, on K Street, at corporate retreats, in diners, in churches, and kitchen tables. It lives in the clown cars filled with commercial health insurance industry CEOs who are parked outside our overburdened and collapsing hospitals passively watching. It lives in the minds of defense contractor shareholders who are eating potato chips while watching displaced persons on television be airlifted out of Afghanistan with little else than the shirts on their backs. It’s a way of thinking, acting and doing business that allows–and often intentionally perpetuates–harm and death.
In 2013 I interviewed Susan Taylor, the editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine from 1981 through 2000. Regarding trauma, healthcare and health she told me “the village is on fire and the children are screaming.”
When I view the photograph by photojournalist Marcus Yam of a child who had just witnessed another child being shot to death by a gun in Kabul earlier this week, I hear those children.
When I learn that my young teenage friend Ramone who worked at my local Mariano’s grocery store is dead, shot in gang crossfire near Roosevelt and Wabash while working his second job delivering food for Grubhub, I hear them.
When I read a letter from 800 physicians calling on a United States Governor in Florida to stop politicizing healthcare in order to prevent children from dying from Covid-19, I hear them.
CNN repeatedly broadcast the photograph by Marcus Yam. Blood, terror and vicarious trauma over and over, circulated digitally in an hourly scroll. Yet, this opportunity for transformative thinking and action is not about one child, one photographic frame or one death. It’s not about one party, one insidious commercial health insurance company, one greedy pharmaceutical industry executive or one disgraceful defense contractor.
Public Health is the foundational cornerstone of global wellbeing and economic stability. Also, peace. Perhaps we should cease bouncing from crisis to crisis to crisis incessantly and look instead at the root causes of the preventable trauma, harm and death. This philosophical shift will require intellectual discipline, consensus-building stamina, compassion, political will and a business ethics revolution.
This week, photojournalist Paula Bronstein captured two displaced children from the northern provinces of Afghanistan, caged, in a makeshift camp, before being relocated to a temporary shelter while fleeing the Taliban. The older child, under-nourished, dirty and tired, grips the fence with both of his hands appearing to look directly into the lens of Paula’s camera; piercing disdain for adults in his eyes.
Adults are now, once again, in triage mode, frantically, desperately scrambling to aid traumatized persons. Some adults are even donating money to private companies that have been working in Afghanistan for 20 years that are already financed by the United States Department of State and the United Nations, the very entities that have failed both in their mission and execution.
Later today, the Blue Angels, comprised of U.S. Navy and Marines, will be flying over my city performing for the scaled back Chicago Air and Water Show. This show is an annual demonstration of world class engineering, military might and precision expertise by elite pilots. As they circle and roar outside my window, literally threading through the skyscrapers, I can only think of that baby being pulled up and over a cement wall that is lined with barbed wire, by a U.S. soldier, who is standing on a metal ladder, while people are trampled down below.
Earlier in the week I woke to a photograph by colleague Victor J. Blue of three young men, walking shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets of Kabul protesting the Taliban. Just teenagers, yet their faces are weathered with the lines and tired eyes of war-torn adult men.
The boy on the left expresses fatigue and exhaustion. The boy in the middle expresses sadness and fear. The boy on the right is defiant.
I hear them. Do you?