Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Health Comes from the Bottom Up

I haven't posted in a while, although not a day goes by without thinking about my time in Burundi.  In an email exchange when I came home, I wrote to Deo that I left a piece of my heart there, and I am forever transformed by my experiences there.  I had the opportunity to spend an evening recently with Deo and his good friend and mentor Dr. Paul Farmer.  Paul is a co-founder of Partners in Health, an organization that builds health clinics in the poorest countries in the world, including Haiti and Rwanda.  Paul is also a professor at Harvard Medical School and chair of the department of global health and social medicine there.  He is the UN envoy to Haiti.  In short, he is doing amazing work all over the world, and what is even better is that he is one of the nicest, most humble and personable people you can imagine.  His genuine care for others, especially those most in need, is remarkable.

One thing I have learned from Paul that stands out is his emphasis not only on individual care but also on creating health systems and the power of these systems to transform communities.  I have used the phrase "institutionalizing change" as a way of describing how by organizing to empower communities and improve them, whether through hospitals, health clinics, or schools, these institutions have a ripple effect in making changes, big and small, throughout communities.  Paul also speaks of the importance of community health workers, trained community members who visit homes and learn how to identity illnesses and in some cases learn basic treatments.  Village Health Works implements the same system - in this way involving the community in their own care and expanding resources.  These community health workers also act as "accompagnateur"- a Haitian idea - to accompany those who are sick and to simply be with someone who needs help.  I love this idea - something so simple but so powerful - and the integral role it can play both on the individual level but also systemically.

Paul speaks more about these ideas in this piece:

Thank you for reading, and I will continue to post as I learn more!

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