In the following blog, Anders discusses healthcare problems and solutions he saw in India, Liberia and Tanzania.
At the start of 2019 I was lucky enough to witness a snapshot of global healthcare. As our world becomes ever closer and more connected, not all areas of life are created equally. In the hands of rural Tanzanians, you will find smart phones. In the depths of India’s mega-cities, you will find McDonalds. But when it comes to the personnel, facilities, and equipment used to keep the world’s population healthy, globalization has not led to equality. Much of the world’s population lives without adequate access to high quality health care. But there is hope. Governments, local agencies, and humanitarians are stepping up to make a difference. Witnessing the hope reminded me of the tenacity of the human spirit. It reminded me that human life is only improving.
My travel partner, Roger Heegaard, is president of Enova Illumination, a small LED surgical headlight company out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was brought along to assist, document, and report on Enova Illumination’s Mission Program as it met with surgeons and doctors in India, Liberia, and Tanzania. The program provides headlights to healthcare professionals in areas of dire need of lighting solutions for medical procedures.
We touched down first in southeastern India, in a city called Chennai. Immediately the hot, humid air engulfed us. Waiting outside the terminal were a thousand smiling faces, yelling excitedly for their family and friends. The mass of people felt overwhelming, and it was only the beginning. As we entered the city, buses full of people, overloaded mopeds, weaving TukTuks, and countless pedestrians crisscrossed every possible surface of every possible road. The metropolitan area of Chennai has over 13 million people, and it’s only the fourth largest metropolitan area in India.
Chennai was our introduction to India, but the themes didn’t change. From Hyderabad, to Ahmedabad, to Mumbai, to Delhi, we were constantly surrounded by millions of people. As India’s population approaches 1.4 billion, it is set to soon overtake China as the world’s most populous nation. As a representative for a medical device manufacturer, the question quickly became “how can you keep all of these people healthy?” The answer is complex but involves investment in medical care and India is not taking the job lightly.
Throughout our time in India we witnessed a massive expansion of health systems. We saw brand new hospitals with hundreds of beds. We saw massive cardiovascular facilities being built by the government. We saw dedicated doctors and administrators leaping to the healthcare challenge within a booming population. New operating rooms were filled with modern equipment and technology allowing surgeons to perform delicate and complex procedures.
India’s healthcare system still has a long way to go. Many facilities are underfunded, and much of the country’s population can’t afford insurance, leaving them with few advanced options for their health. However, India’s investment in healthcare is inspiring and breathtaking. The world’s largest democracy is up to the challenges it faces, knowing that a healthy population is crucial to a country’s success.
Six thousand miles west, several countries, and one continent away in Western Africa lies Liberia. After several days of travel from India, we found ourselves in the bustling city of Monrovia, Liberia. The mission was the same: understand the country’s healthcare system and provide donations for hospitals in need. Upon arriving in Monrovia, we were faced with the struggles of a developing healthcare system.
Compared to India, Liberia’s population measures just under five million people. In Western Africa, the problem lies within the lack of healthcare infrastructure. Civil war and the Ebola outbreak left the residents in Libera with a decimated healthcare system. The country has one of the world’s lowest doctor-to-population ratios, one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates, and a huge lack of resources.
We visited a hospital that hadn’t had electricity in three days. We saw facilities and staff trying to recover from the massive blows of Ebola. We saw operating rooms that looked war torn. Yet, even in the throes of crisis, there is hope.
We met locals dedicating their lives to bettering their communities with health facilities. Dr. Mosoka Fallah, for instance, uses his resources to build rural clinics. Much of Liberia’s population lives hours from the city of Monrovia with bad roads and no transport vehicles. Dr. Fallah’s organization builds clinics in remote areas where infrastructure would otherwise not exist. What his story tells us (and he is not alone in his endeavors in Liberia), is when communities become engaged and dedicated, they are able to save lives. Residents familiar with the language and culture have immense power and responsibility in the developing world and are ready to use it.
The final leg of the journey landed us in the East African country of Tanzania. Tanzania is best known for its vast wilderness and is home to all Africa’s “Big Five” animals: elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and rhino. With such a large, wild country, Tanzania faces many of the same healthcare challenges as Liberia and India.
Tanzania, like Liberia, has struggled with healthcare infrastructure. Tanzania has over 57 million inhabitants living in multiple spread out cities. Building up the country’s healthcare system, from my perspective, seems to be an afterthought to the government. Without investing in adequate infrastructure and more resources, the population suffers. Under these circumstances, outside help plays a crucial role.
I visited a facility called Arusha Lutheran Medical Center (ALMC), founded by a Minnesota doctor. The mission was simple: to provide surgeons where there were none. Standing tall in a low-lying neighborhood, the facility boasts state-of-the-art operating rooms, training courses for upcoming surgeons, and specialty surgeons able to perform any common procedure.
The ALMC was a direct example of global resource sharing. Nations, when able, can help provide developing areas with the tools they need to advance their facilities.
India, Liberia, and Tanzania face similar problems. Due to various issues like a growing population, post-war recovery, or lack of funding, each of these countries deals with the reality of inadequate health services. All three nations, truthfully, are trying to answer the same question that every nation on earth needs to answer: How can we keep all our people healthy? Without healthy citizens, no nation – and indeed, no global society – can be totally successful. The key to a fruitful world is a healthy population.
What I witnessed throughout the different corners of the world were three different solutions to the same problem. Government investment, local empowerment, and global resource sharing each aim to burgeon a robust and adequate healthcare system. Yet, not one of these solutions is adequate on its own. Instead, the twenty-first century must tackle the issue of healthcare with a combined and coordinated approach. Each nation must do all three solutions and more. If any one nation can invest in their systems, empower their locals to work together, and accept foreign aid during the process, it could arrive at a solution. Enova Illumination donates surgical headlights to doctors and hospitals in need – one small piece in this huge global puzzle. I was honored to be a part of the solution. I was honored to witness the effects of cooperation. I have hope, just like those I met across the world.