Why health matters

Health is sometimes downplayed as a development priority. Governments and donors often prioritize economic growth and education, on the assumption that better health will automatically follow. The most compelling arguments that we health types make in response are as follows:

1) ill health is a drag on the economy by reducing worker productivity

2) when a family member is sick, families will bankrupt themselves in getting care for that individual

Point two is really about love. When a loved one is ill, you do your best to save them, even if you have to sell your assets, exhaust your savings, or move from the country to the city. You most certainly do not continue your education, start a microenterprise, or try to increase the productivity of your farm. This is especially true when your loved one in question is a child.

I always knew that had to be true, but I know it painfully in my heart now. My best friends just lost their baby daughter. She had Rubenstein-Taybi Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that includes physical and developmental disabilities. Her illness meant that her family couldn’t get medical clearance, so her dad had to leave his job working abroad and they dipped into their savings to survive. He looked for a new job in the US, but it was hard to schedule around the time spent talking to doctors and looking after his baby.

No one questioned the family’s decision to focus on their daughter. If asked, I would have dipped into my own savings, unquestioning. When a family member is sick, you do what you have to do. Here in the US, the family had health insurance that covered most of their costs. In the developing world, the expense would probably have pushed an entire extended family into poverty.

You can’t improve the world around you if your baby is sick. You can only try to save your baby. Which is why the rest of us need to make a world where babies grow up strong and healthy and no one has to make terrible choices.

Sakina Nurulimon Hunsicker had a sweet smile, an infectious little giggle, and propensity for cuddling. She was almost eleven months old when she died suddenly from complications of pneumonia and dehydration caused by diarrhea. She leaves behind her parents, a devoted older brother, and a large extended family. She touched the lives of many, many people, and we miss her.