In the News

The Wichita Eagle
Dan Ostergaard, Philip Dooley, Lisa Gilbert and Patrick L. Allen

Global health aid for vulnerable populations around the world is often earmarked for specific diseases or disaster relief. In addition, however, improving health care also requires comprehensive primary care. Primary care acts as the foundation and the safety net in any effective health care system, as it is uniquely equipped to prevent, identify and treat the vast majority of illnesses. Out of compassion for those abroad, we are very grateful for Sen. Jerry Moran’s leadership in proposing that comprehensive primary health care be funded as part of US global health aid.

Among us, we have a range of experiences in global health work, from health care on a Navajo reservation to various republics in central Asia, from refugees in rural Kansas to rural hospitals in Africa. We have served with primary care and with disaster relief; through these experiences, we have seen first-hand the critical need for comprehensive primary care in all of these diverse communities.

One of the clearest examples of the need for strong primary care was during the Ebola disaster response in Liberia, in which one of us volunteered. This deadly virus wreaked havoc in local communities, both from the disease itself and from the collapse of existing health care systems. This devastating impact would have been greatly mitigated by a stronger underlying health infrastructure, as it was clear that even in normal situations, many people had little access to adequate primary care.

Vaccine outreach for preventable diseases, basic education on infection transmission and prevention, and early recognition and treatment of deadly diseases are often championed by primary care. Leading humanitarian, medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer explained that “Ebola is more a symptom of a weak health-care system than anything else.” However, the word Ebola could be replaced with any number of other critical diseases and still represent this underlying primary care deficit.

The lack of basic medical care is a common theme in many other countries around the world where we have also served, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Central Asia, Rwanda, Cameroon and Niger, the latter being the country that was ranked as “the worst country to be a mother,” according to the Gates Foundation in 2012. Maternal and neonatal mortality rates are tragically high, even though most are easily preventable. While a few patients will always need intensive or highly specialized care, most causes of disease and death in resource-limited countries can be substantially reduced with access to basic primary care.

In light of our experiences, we very much support Sen. Moran in his work to promote global health aid for comprehensive primary health care. Our partnership and support will be multiplied exponentially as countries are able to build up their own primary healthcare systems. We wholeheartedly endorse the current proposal that is before the foreign aid funding subcommittee, of which Sen. Moran is a member, calling for at least $100 million within the global nutrition and health security accounts to be earmarked for comprehensive primary care.

View the full article here