The Caregivers’ Disease

By Health and Human Rights communications assistant Gabrielle Tyson

In an article published in the May 21 edition of The London Review of Books, Health and Human Rights Journal editor-in-chief, Paul Farmer, illuminates the staggering number of caregivers and physicians who not only gave their time and effort to fighting Ebola in West Africa, but ultimately their lives as well. Farmer notes the disparity in health care between the rich and the poor—a reality that most people in developed countries know but rarely think about.

Farmer highlights a study outlining the extremely poor quality of surgical care available in Sierra Leone:

A 2013 study by a team including another Lancet commissioner, T.B. Kamara, compared the surgical care in Sierra Leone’s district hospitals with what was available in the Union Army’s field hospitals during the American Civil War. They concluded that the working conditions of the Union’s surgical teams, and their outcomes, were ‘equivalent and in many ways superior’ to those available to Kamara’s fellow citizens.

Farmer points out that several physicians died in Sierra Leone—far from the sort of care that could have saved their lives—because of their commitment to bringing safer surgery and treatment to the most affected remote regions of West Africa. He also mentions that many successful victories over infectious diseases, such as AIDS, have been due not to policy changes but to an increase in public awareness and sympathy, which in turn generated more donors, involved more NGOs and community-based organizations, and caught the attention of more government agencies. He notes that while emergency humanitarian assistance can save many lives, it is almost always exceptional, meaning it only provides assistance against one or two diseases; it does not effect systemic health care changes in the countries that are most affected. Farmer is direct in his conclusion when he writes:

If we are to honour the memories of those who died from this caregivers’ disease, we would do well to muster the resources and resolve to build strong healthcare systems in those parts of the world that have never known them.

Original study published in The London Review of Books, Vol. 37, No. 10.

Read the entire article here.