By Matt Anderson, MD (WWV Medical Director)
As I read the news a couple weeks ago I couldn’t help but think about Haiti. You may have seen the articles- there were several- about a new “superbug” that had made its way to the United States for the first time. Big headlines told of this antibiotic-resistant E. coli infection that doesn’t have any current curative treatments. I saw one article quote the mortality rate of this infection at 50%. The articles also went on to describe the overuse of antibiotics in our medical system and the future risks this poses without new medications and different utilization patterns.
This is clearly an important topic with significant implications for our collective public health. It also can be a pretty scary thing. For those of us who have lived the majority of our lives in “the antibiotic era” we’ve commonly taken the existence and effectiveness of these drugs for granted. Infections that used to kill are now often a simple nuisance. When confronted with the possibility that such protection may not be available in the future it can make us anxious or even fearful. How would I get that? How can I avoid that? What happens to people who get it? Someone needs to do something about that! These are legitimate sentiments that I can admit to having myself as I read about this problem this week.
After pondering those questions for a while, though, I’ll admit to feeling a bit spoiled. I don’t share this to make any of us feel guilty but rather to share some perspective that I feel God allowed me to experience this week. That perspective is this: that I am abundantly blessed to live in a time and place where amazing medical advances and economic prosperity have afforded me a standard of living that has never been rivaled on a widespread basis before in human history.
At the same time, this prosperity has easily become an idol in my heart- something that I must have, that I pursue to great lengths, and that when threatened causes me to at times be fearful, anxious, or angry. I then thought of my friends in Haiti. I thought about how many of their healthcare problems and challenges have very little to do with antibiotic resistance but rather having any access to antibiotics or a physician who knows whether or not they need them. I thought of the angst that parents and loved ones can experience when someone they love falls ill. Is there anywhere I can take them? Do we know anyone who has a car? Will someone give us money? What can be done? Will the doctors be well trained and reliable? I thought of the pain that the patient and their family in Pennsylvania must be feeling as they face the unknown impact of this “superbug”, but then I also thought about the Haitian man we met in October of 2014. While using a chisel to make gravel he had cut his hand and developed an abscess. Not having access to medical care he watched for 5 days as his hand developed an abscess, became increasingly painful, and began having pus drain from it. I suspect that he asked these same questions of himself but had made the decision that he would monitor things for the time being and hope they got better because he didn’t like any of his options and nearby care wasn’t really included in those. As God ordained it, we were running a World Wide Village medical clinic that week in Luly and we were able to drain his abscess, give him appropriate antibiotics, and within two weeks we had verified that he was completely healed.
I wonder how many men, women, or children there are on a regular basis who aren’t so lucky. I’m struck by what a different and yet similar problem this is to that of the patient in Pennsylvania- an infection that’s difficult to treat. The solution to one, however, is much more easily modified than the other. While antibiotic resistance and utilization is a complicated problem that will require behavioral changes in millions of individuals, providers, and researchers, our ability to make an impact for Haitian people like our worker in this story is immediately easier to project.
That simplicity is this: the people in Luly and Williamson, Haiti need a consistent and accessible medical clinic– one that engages with their community in providing physical care while also meeting their spiritual needs through Biblically-based care of their souls while teaming with the local church. Praise God that we are getting closer to that reality through our City on a Hill project. However, we still need your help!
When you think about stories about antibiotic resistance, barriers to American patients getting the best medications or other services would you also think about your Haitian brothers and sisters whom our Heavenly Father loves every bit as much as He loves you and I? Would you consider whether God might be calling you to make an impact for them in the same way He’s asking you to do so at home? Would you prayerfully ask God how He might want you to serve- be it with your time, your money, your talent, or your prayers? It breaks my heart to think about the prospects of worsening antibiotic resistance and its implications to my children, my patients, and all of our futures here in America. At the same time it breaks my heart just as much to know that there are millions of people living in situations where their next infection, antibiotic-resistant or not, could be their last due to a lack of access to even the most simple care. With all that said, please use or request antibiotics judiciously and please consider how your service can make an amazing and substantial impact to another human being in Haiti.
Progress on the medical clinic as of last week!