I have been sick lately, not with anything life threatening but sick enough that for the last two weekends I have been stuck at home in bed and laying really low. I had to see the doctor more than a few times and we had to try a couple of different treatments but not I am back on my feet!
For me, this is just another reminder of how much your physical health is tangled up in your general disposition in the world. I am one of the lucky ones, I have health insurance, I have access to doctors/clinics, and I have the means to pay for the treatment I need. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many people in Mali. You get national insurance when you work for a company that pays their taxes and is registered with the government. In a country with incredibly high unemployment rates, many people work under the table – and so, have no insurance. Your community might have a community health center but it is not always equipped to deal with complicated health situations. If you have a complicated health issues (for example are sick with two things at the same time), you have to head to a city center and that costs money and you have to hope that some sort of transport is available to take you to that next location. Even if you arrive at the hospital you are faced with consultation fees, test fees, treatment fees – the costs can get pretty expensive, pretty quickly. If you are working under the table the chances that you can pay for the breadth of treatment available to you are pretty slim.
Amartya Sen, an Economist and Philosopher, draws attention to this in his theory about people’s potential. In humanitarian contexts, it is not unusual for organizations to distribute the same quantities of goods/services to every person. For example, each person will receive 10 kilos of rice per week, 5 kilos of beans etc. It’s done in the name of fairness and equality. But what if someone has a health concern like a parasite that is fighting your body for the nutrients that 10 kilos of rice and 5 kilos of beans can give. Comparative to someone who is fine health, you would under perform in terms of energy levels, you’d probably be lethargic and therefore less likely to take advantage of programs or socializing.
In Mali, health concerns, like broken bones, parasites, or things that get deteriorate over time, can be the economic ruin of a family as they struggle to balance their care and their household expenses. It is heart breaking to see small curable incidences cause financial stress or deteriorate to more serious illnesses because of lack of care. I know, that I am one of the lucky ones who does not face this reality. But it is because of this reality for others that I am committed to trying to help others whose situations are very different from my own.
Today, I am reminded to be grateful for my health.