While living in Tokyo back in 2001, my attention was captivated by a US public television program on a cardiovascular surgeon in Phoenix who was making annual trips to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to perform pro bono heart surgery on children. I was deeply moved by this doctor’s selfless devotion to sharing his skills and enabling children to have new life. The TV program is what led me to think about a “good news” series, but as I’ve mentioned before, that never happened.
But now that I’m including a “what works” segment on this blog, I’ve searched for this doctor’s name and, thanks to Google, have it. He’s Dr. Jeremy Torstveit, and he and a colleague run the Childrens Heart Project (www.childrensheartproject.org). Dr. Torstveit now teaches Sri Lankan and other countries’ doctors his surgical skills and, according to the web site, also collects and ships medical equipment abroad. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. (Another organization that does similar work is the National Heart Institute in New Delhi. It is a research institute that provides free surgery for congenital heart defects in children from India and neighboring countries: www.nationalheartinstitute.com.)
Perhaps one reason Dr. Torstveit did not win the Nobel is that the previous year’s winner was Doctors Without Borders (Médicins Sans Frontières), which has a presence in around 70 countries and does truly noble work, often under dangerous conditions (www.doctorswithoutborders.org). MSF medical workers can be found in refugee camps, in the midst of civil wars, and in medical emergencies such as epidemics. In short, you are likely to find them wherever there is a vulnerable population. As a humanitarian organization that provides relief to all, MSF must be neutral and impartial; but unlike other such groups, it does not stay silent in the face of gross injustice.
Medical Teams International (MTI; www.medicalteams.org) was founded by an Oregonian, Ron Post, who was appalled by the public health disaster in Cambodia that occurred when the Khmer Rouge took control. Since its first response to the plight of Cambodian refugees, MTI has sent medical help to many developing countries—for example, establishing community health programs in Uganda and Myanmar (Burma), refugee relief in South Sudan, and midwifery training and emergency care in Nicaragua. MTI is also active in the US, offering mobile dental facilities for low-income families in Washington and Oregon.
Though not a medical organization, Save the Children (www.savethechildren.org) deserves mention here because, like the other groups, it is on the front lines when it comes to delivering life-saving services to children. Save the Children has been doing this since the Great Depression in the early 1930s in Harlan County, Kentucky. It has been providing emergency health care, food, clothing, and educational services to millions of children around the world since 1940.
These diverse stories tell us that one person, and one organization, can indeed make an enormous difference. My guess is that there are thousands more doctors, nurses, and other caregivers in rich countries who, individually or in groups, are providing free health care in the poorest countries—without fanfare, and sometimes at great personal risk. Why don’t we hear about them and laud their good work?