It was probably at least middle school before I realized how sheltered my family kept me from class distinctions.
Like most kids, I heard the schoolyard jokes about welfare and food stamps, but I had no real working knowledge of what any of that meant. My father’s church was a distribution center for free cheese, peanut butter and powdered milk around the first of the month, but that didn’t mean much to me, other than the certainty of getting some world-class mac & cheese around that same time. Never even saw a food stamp up close until I went on a quick store run with one of my teenage friends, who explained that she had someone buy a few school bus tokens from her with the brightly colored pseudo-money she was now using to buy snacks. Medicare, Medicaid, Section 8…these were merely terms that swirled over my head during adult conversations held in my presence. How necessary these “entitlement programs” are to people’s daily existence was a lesson I would learn in earnest in college economics and ethics classes. And the true value of these policies is even further made clear when you examine the disparities in quality of life matters, found both in impoverished inner city communities and developing nations like Ghana.
It is mind-bloggling that, in a world with such vast investment in technology, we are still grappling with issues like infant mortality. So it was with great interest that I welcomed our delegation’s visit to Suntreso Government Hospital in Ghana to discuss their Kangaroo Care unit. Suntreso is a vastly different physical building for medical care than we are accustomed to in America. No steel and glass sterile environment. No cafeteria or air conditioning, even. It more resembled a motel easily found in tropical states like Florida with its open-air design, benches and concrete walkways. Yet, thanks to a grant from MASHAV, a Hebrew acronym for Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, the doctors of Suntreso have made great strides in reducing infant mortality by returning to a very basic concept of care: babies respond best to human touch and concentrated affection. Mothers of low-weight preemies drape their babies in pouches that keep the child close to their heartbeat, within their grasp, outside of incubators that harbor germs and create distance. In their most basic care facility, these doctors have dramatically reversed infant mortality rates by bringing humanity back to infant care. Americans should take note.
And just a day later, our delegation was invited to visit the 27-acre campus for a brand-new, not-yet-open-to-the-public, medical facility built at the University of Ghana-Labone. This campus, funded through a $217M loan from the Israeli government, has been designed to become a world-class training and treatment facility for all of West Africa, not just Ghana. Using a plan of both state-of-the-art technology and information sharing between nations, this training hospital will offer comparable care to any other developed nation in the world.
Walking through such a facility as it is still being fine-tuned and prepped for the public was fascinating. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel a knowing dread that those same mothers I saw at Suntreso would never be able to afford care at this shiny new center. Who would? As our American political dialogue is filled with discussions of repealing and replacing Obamacare, I worry about the fate of those with preexisting conditions and government subsidies for their monthly premiums. So too do I fret over accessibility for everyday Ghanaians to extraordinary facilities like this new hospital, when many of them do not even have access to running water at home.
The plight of the Have Nots, even in spaces where the relative wealth of the Haves is subjective, must continue to be a prominent focus as we examine global policies, government stability, and negotiations with other countries to bring improvements to those who desperately need their humanity and dignity affirmed.