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Joining the team, fighting the global health crisis

Matthew Barnes and Sarah Epstein | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the first of 3 columns calling for greater attention to the global health crisis as discussed in the academic forum earlier this semester. The second will appear tomorrow.

Few scenes are more entertaining than a little-league soccer game. There is something funny about a large mob of children chasing the ball around, each child vying for a chance to kick the ball. There are no positions and only a vague sense of a team. As they mature, children learn that there is more to the game than simply getting their kicks in. Team members must work together. Ultimately, the team shares both the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. These lessons are applicable even on a global scale.

At the Notre Dame Forum “The Global Health Crisis: Forging Solutions, Effecting Change” held at the Joyce Center on Sept. 14, a panel discussed the dire conditions of global health. Panelists included Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University and Director of the UN Millennium Project Jeffrey Sachs, native Ugandan and coordinator of clinical trials at Makerere University Miriam Laker Opwonya, and medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, along with current and former Notre Dame students. We felt that throughout the discussion, several principles emerged reminiscent of lessons learned on the soccer field. The panelists’ primary message was one of teamwork on a global scale. They argued that wealthy nations share a moral imperative to play their part on an international team. Rather than viewing the economy as a zero-sum competition where one country’s advancement comes at another’s expense, wealthy nations must recognize that aid to poor countries will eventually benefit everyone through the growth of larger global markets.

All citizens, including students like us, have roles on the team, and should participate. Donations are desperately needed to save more than 40 million people who will suffer and die this year from tuberculosis, HIV and various treatable water-borne illnesses. These people are impoverished and unable to support themselves, and the underdeveloped nations in which they live cannot assist them either. Nevertheless, more affluent individuals often fail to donate money, believing the excuse that their limited contributions cannot possibly elicit global change. While a five dollar donation to charity may not seem very significant, it is enough to provide treatment for two adult malaria victims who would otherwise die. Children, who are even more vulnerable, cost less to treat than adults. The change from one individual’s pockets could save two or more lives! If the entire Notre Dame community made similar donations, we could raise thousands of dollars, which could purchase medicines and other supplies that could directly save upwards of 20,000 lives in a single year. Clearly, a team effort can make quite an impact.

Furthermore, our imperative is not merely to keep people from starving now, but to offer enough assistance to provide the foundation for future economic growth. To borrow from the imagery of Sachs, the wealthy nations of the world must help lesser developed nations onto the first rung of the ladder of ecological development before they will be able to begin pulling themselves upward. However, this process takes time, so we must act as soon as possible.

Indeed, now is the time for Notre Dame students to join the team against global poverty. As representatives of the student body, the Council of Representatives and the remainder of our Student Government should organize this effort. We encourage our readers to let their representatives know that they support a campus-wide fundraiser for global health. More importantly, when the time comes, we implore our fellow students to donate generously. Even if you have no money to spare, your time supporting the fundraiser can be just as valuable. Everyone has individual talents to contribute to global efforts. In the meantime, opportunities exist to join and support student organizations with charitable causes such as Circle K and Lead-ND. The Center for Social Concerns also provides opportunities for students to contribute their time and talents to charitable efforts. If everyone cooperates and we combine our individual contributions, collectively we can and will make a difference. Rally, sons and daughters of Notre Dame, against the global health crisis.

The authors are biology graduate students participating in the new Global Linkages of Biology, the Environment, and Society (GLOBES) program.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.