Compassionate Heroes in Global Health
Thoughts from President Jimmy Carter
My mother, who was a registered nurse, heavily influenced my early life as a child and as a young person. We lived in a community in southern Georgia. All of our neighbors were African-American. It was during the time of racial discrimination in America, when separate-but-equal was legalized by the Supreme Court and by the Congress and by general societal mores. But my mother treated everyone the same. She was in a medical profession so she avoided the stigma of reaching out to black neighbors. I derived concern for poor, neglected people from the way my mother treated our black neighbors who quite often had no possibility of paying her for her professional services. We were aware, maybe subconsciously, at that time of the kind of services she was providing, and also the gratification she derived from being able to serve people in need. Her example contributed to the origin of my participation in the kind of work that The Carter Center does.
The Carter Center has tapped into what we’ve learned from others in the last 25-30 years. We’ve decided to concentrate on healthcare. We deal primarily with so-called neglected diseases, those diseases that are not known in the developed world. We deal with dracunculiasis (guinea worm disease), lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, trachoma, and onchocerciasis. These diseases do not afflict people in most of the world where money exists, but they afflict adversely hundreds of millions of people in the tropical areas of South America and all of Africa. What we do is to go into the most remote villages that are destitute, forgotten, neglected, and suffering, and work directly with people on an individual basis.
I believe it’s the person-to-person contact that arouses in our benefactors a sense of compassion and love and care. It is an exemplar of the general principle of public health service for the benefactors, who are trained in healthcare head to these villages often at a financial sacrifice. They care for people they do not know and may never see again. They do this work because these people quite often don’t even know that help is available. A registered nurse or a doctor that’s working in Ethiopia or Burkina Faso or Niger make financial and personal sacrifices to deliver services. Their work is the work of compassion and love it’s very important. It lets the public know that there is a cadre who, in the most remote villages on Earth, is working in ways that are quite often unpublicized and unrecognized. It’s important for us to bring additional support to their very worthwhile projects.
We try and do this. During one of my trips to China, I spoke to several thousand students in the Yunnan province at the university. Another time, I spoke to maybe three thousand students at Emory University. In both cases students asked me, what are the elements of success in life, and what should they do as seniors or freshmen in college to expand their lives to benefit and influence more people? I responded by talking about the inspired lives of people like Jim Grant who transformed UNICEF and Bill Foege who helped to wipe out smallpox and who devotes his life to helping others still.
These kinds of biographies influence the minds of young people searching for ideals and examples of true success in life. Grant and Foege allow these young people to personalize their innate idealism, their innate desire to serve others. Quite often it is difficult for a deeply committed religious person to put their religious faith into practical application. Seeing examples of heroes such as Grand and Foege in the field of public health will connect this generation in an inspirational way with their future lives. The successes, contributions, and services of those who’ve gone before them lead the way. It’s an exhilarating adventure, quite often unpredictable, but always paying rich dividends to those that provide the service then we ever expend in potential financial or other sacrifice.
President Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States, founded the Carter Center and has been committed to advancing human rights and alleviating unnecessary human suffering. Jimmy Carter served as president from Jan. 20, 1977, to Jan. 20, 1981. Significant foreign policy accomplishments of his administration included the Panama Canal treaties, the Camp David Accords, the treaty of peace between Egypt and Israel, the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union, and the establishment of U.S. diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. He championed human rights throughout the world.