On my way to work last week, I saw a procession of women walking from Queen Elizabeth hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. They were congregating around one particularly somber young lady with a bundle wrapped around her chest. My director informed me that she was holding her recently deceased infant.
That same afternoon, I read a news story depicting the sudden death of a nurse. After being falsely identified as the attending midwife to the delivery of a stillborn baby, the angry family threw sand in her eyes containing fertilizers and other toxic substances.
The day prior, I was talking to my taxi driver about the size of his family after jokingly being teased for having only one sister, no husband, and no children of my own. He briefly mentioned that his nephew suddenly passed last month after complaining only of stomach pains the night before. He then added that two of his sisters have already passed from HIV/AIDS, and that his brother was recently found to be positive as well.
What struck me the most after hearing these three stories was the casual nature in which they were discussed-examples such as these are the status quo. They enter a conversation as easily as a discussion of the weather. The commonality of a conversation where a sentence is thrown in, “we used to be seven, we’re now five,” can only be the result of the structural injustice and global health inequity we have specifically been placed in these fellowships to challenge.
I’m sure as fellows you all have encountered similar situations and/or experienced your own losses, and can therefore relate to my accumulating sentiments of sadness, anger, empathy, helplessness-the list goes on. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless as these issues we are hoping to ameliorate are so embedded, permeating all corners of society. They are visible in villages, in cities, among the uneducated, and even the educated.
It hit me today that these stories have evoked a more personal reaction within me. Malawi isn’t just the location of an assigned case study or the destination of a summer internship. This country will be MY home for the next year, possibly longer. Unnecessary deaths are unacceptable anywhere in the world, but somehow I feel even more galvanized to dedicate everything I have to creating a world in which mothers do not walk home clutching their dead children.
I realize I must give credit to GHC as an organization. For the first time, I’m the lucky member of a community filled with passionate, ridiculously intelligent, innovative individuals who inspire me daily in what they have already achieved, as well as their future aspirations. I no longer feel alone in my frustration regarding the “status quo” of health in the developing world, but most importantly, feel supported in my hope and excitement to accomplish all of my goals for this year and beyond. I know as a class we won’t succumb to the pressures of the job, we will challenge barriers, support one another in times of sadness, and emerge as stronger leaders equipped with the skills and energy to continue in this line of work beyond our fellowship year.