Sitting down to articulate a reflection on Paul Farmer’s article, I kept returning not to what I thought, but how I felt. Emotions are crucial, yet seem a double-edged sword in approaching certain aspects of this field. Indeed, we must learn to draw lines. This, I realize, I have not yet mastered…
Reading Farmer’s words, I was powerfully reminded of the questions which make me not want to sit still, the ones central to my motivation to take this path. In the face of all the injustices, health inequalities, and resulting human rights failures (which social media bring to us with increasing expediency and intimacy), how do we filter out our own passions in order to make effective professional choices? Can we leverage our emotional connection as a tool instead of counting it a hindrance? Where do we see ourselves as students, as the next generation of potential actors in this field? From the DALY to the tally-sheets of cost-effectiveness, the layers of meaning and responsibility fall heavily. What choices will we make?
Paul Farmer’s voice, incisive and clearly passionate, is one to make us stop to think. He is a master of joining the emotional with the factual, pointing out the inherent hypocrisy in the systems which govern much of our lives. The words of this article, although published over ten years ago, in many ways still ring true today. Reaching back, as Farmer did, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we see that over sixty years after the writing of this document, we are still painfully far from the world optimistically described therein.
Although the work ahead is daunting at best, important steps forward have undoubtedly been taken. Back in 1999, Farmer pointed out the privileged position of health experts in negotiating human rights advances when other (especially legal) measures have fallen short. In the intervening decade, the importance of such interventions at the intersection of health and human rights has received increasing attention. In the academic setting, universities such as Johns Hopkins, NYU and Harvard have established or expanded centers for an interdisciplinary approach to this crucial field. In a global push towards crucial human rights, the Millennium Development Goals were adopted. Most recently, a variety of non-governmental organizations, increasingly supported by web and social media presence, have taken up the issue. (Still, if we look at Sudan, the Congo and more recently Libya, the connection still often looks painfully tenuous.)
I recognize that I have much to learn (not least of all from Paul Farmer, whose emotionally connected message rings all the more true), about counterbalancing my feelings through facts and figures. Yet perhaps I am not the only one. Perhaps this will serve to begin a conversation, rather than end a monologue, on the emotional aspects of the course of study on which we are embarking.