Today is World Tuberculosis (TB) Day. I was asked to write a post for the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life blog on how I have become inspired to be a global health advocate. Here is the post. To check it out on the Shot@Life blog, click here.
Never in a million years would I have pictured myself as a global health warrior. If you had asked me two years earlier if I’d be writing, volunteering and advocating on global heath issues, I would have certainly been surprised by the question. Yet in January 2012, I was selected to attend a three-day seminar hosted by the UN Foundation to be trained on global vaccines as a Shot@Life Champion. Little did I know, this summit would change my path and start my life-long journey as a global health advocate.
I have always been passionate about seeing the world and have been exceptionally fortunate to have experienced many different countries and cultures. Every trip I take to a new place changes me and opens my eyes to not only all the beauty the world has to offer but all the pain and suffering as well. A life-changing trip to Nepal was what inspired me to become a storyteller and educator on my travels abroad. After that eye-opening trip, I began blogging and also raising awareness and funds to help the people of beautiful yet poverty-stricken Nepal. My work as a global advocate and volunteer is what eventually brought me to Shot@Life.
After attending the Shot@Life Summit, the first thing I did after I returned home was read a book I was given at the training, Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” a deeply inspiring book on the work of Harvard-educated Doctor Paul Farmer and his quest to bring modern-day medicine to some of the poorest people in the world.
Doctor Farmer has dedicated his life to fighting for global health equity and is one of the world’s leading thinkers on health and human rights and the consequences of social inequality. Over the years, Farmer has championed the treatment of drug-resistent Tuberculosis (TB), a deadly vaccine-preventable disease that continues to strike unfairly among the worlds poor.
TB has been around for over 131 years yet remains the second leading infectious disease killer in the world, killing 1.4 million people each year. It is also the third leading cause of death for women of childbearing age and has led to over 10 million orphans worldwide. Alarmingly, TB is becoming smarter, more dangerous and difficult to treat as it morphs into a drug-resistant strain which especially impacts poor countries.
Many countries that have developed drug-resistent forms of TB such as Haiti, Russia, and Peru, have long been forgotten by the medical world and deemed too expensive to treat. However, Doctor Paul Farmer has challenged this idea and has dedicated his life to proving that not only can drug-resistent TB be treated, it must be treated and is the moral thing to do. Furthermore, you cannot have a peaceful world if people are dying needlessly.
Farmer’s beliefs deeply resonate with me. His mission to provide global health equity could not be more powerful in my mind, especially since I have traveled and volunteered in parts of the developing world where I have witnessed firsthand some of the devastating impacts of poverty and disease on a community. Hospitals in Honduras with no medication or running water. Villages in Nepal with the nearest clinic being two days of rugged, treacherous hiking away. Communities in Peru still struggling with unclean water and children dying from diarrhea.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Farmer speak at the 25th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum here in Minneapolis. As Farmer delivered his speech, I listened in awe and excitement, holding tightly on to my copy of “Mountains Beyond Mountains“. I could hardly believe that I was sitting there in the audience, listening to the person who had inspired me to do this work voluntarily and to become a global health advocate. Two years ago, I never would have believed it.
After Farmer’s luminous speech, I joined hundreds of others in line and waited hours to get my copy personally signed. Not only was my book signed, I also got to speak with Doctor Farmer about my work with Shot@Life and how we are playing a role in providing global health equity through the delivery of life-saving vaccines to the developing world. Farmer ended our conversation with a beautiful note, thanking me for my work in global health, and the prevention and palliation of suffering. It is a note of gratitude that I will never take lightly, nor will I ever forget.