Devoted Individuals Battling Inequality Around the Globe

As I read, Mountains beyond Mountains and Strength in What Remains both written by Tracy Kidder, I could not help to think of how privileged we are here in the United States of America. These books got me thinking critically and analytically about the desperate situations of the unfortunate all over the world. These books were decisively written to those individuals around the world with the capability and aspiration to help others in dire situations. Paul Farmer, a physician and a medical anthropologist, is the main protagonist in the accredited novel Mountains beyond Mountains. Deo, a young man who survived two civil wars and strived for success and a life devoted to helping others through medicine is the character Strength in What Remains is based on. The three areas of focus are inequality around the globe on how these two physicians tackle this concern in relation to medicine. Does everyone have equal access to healthcare, like transportation, education and etc? The use of sorcery and how that might help or limit access to other westernized medicine, in communities dealing with certain diseases. Lastly, knowing that we are connected on a global scale, what changes could we the readers of these books do and implement for betterment of the globe

Mountains Beyond Mountains I gained the understanding of an important theme which is global interconnection and inequality. Even though, thanks to vast growth of technology, the world is connected on almost every stage but that does not translate to equality over borders as stated in Mountains Beyond Mountains “All suffering isn’t equal” (Kidder: 232). In this statement Farmer is illustrating that someone who lives in the third world and someone who lives in an industrialized nation do not have the same worries. The person from an industrialized nation has more access to health care, preventable medicine; physicians so, two individual living in these different worlds could not be equal when dealing with access to healthcare. For example, in a slide presented by Prof. Connie it was clear that a place that is disadvantaged like Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for half of all child mortality under the age of five in the world. The majority of the mortality of these children is not of complications that there is no cure for, but the three leading causes of death are diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria. These three illnesses that are the main causes of child mortality around the globe in third world are diseases that can be easily cured if better access to healthcare was provided and proper utilization of vaccines or other materials that would combat these diseases such as water, bed nets and nutrition. These are the sort of things that these two individual physicians work hard toward. An interesting Stat used by Deo, in Strength in what Remains is that of “One in five deaths caused by waterborne diseases or lack of sanitation; sever malnutrition for 54 percent of children under five”(Kidderl: 226) These are necessities for life that are for granted in the West.

In the film Yesterday it is apparent not everyone has the accessibility to medicine, finances, nor does everyone have the background knowledge needed to comprehend terms used in medicine. Even the fact that an individual has to wait such a long time in line in hopes of getting seen and still might not get seen at all that day is a lot different than that of a person living in an industrialized nation whose fears are having to wait a few hours at worst in a comfy waiting room. Also, how Yesterday’s husband John had to be forced by his employer to see a doctor because he himself could not take time off work to do so. This is a true dilemma for a lot of people around the world, they must choose whether to go to work or see a physician with whatever ailment that might be bothering them, due to job insecurity

In Strength in What Remains Deo the young man who goes through many struggles arriving at JFK with only two hundred dollars and not knowing anyone, and goes on to Columbia University then medical school. Even though Deo goes through extraordinary times surviving two genocides one in Rwanda and another in Burundi, he still manages to accomplish great things in America and goes back home to make a difference. On a trip working in hospital built by Partners in Health in a district in Rwanda the summer of 2005, Deo thought to himself “Burundi needs hospitals like this” (Kidder: 189). Deo, a young man with a lot of character and demonstartared great courage, had the idea of taking on an enormous challenge to build a hospital and bring access to healthcare for people in Burundi who are in desperate need of one.

When Deo arrived at Rukomo a town with ‘rutted roads’ and hot springs, a town that had a nice looking clinic but was ‘underequipped’ also made people pay for its services and was ruled and controlled by a Burundian pastor. Deo wanted to make a joint effort to improve the clinic but the pastor refused and Deo counter argued by making this statement. “If tomorrow you don’t have a large number of people coming to worship you, don’t be surprised. They will be sitting in their houses, in these miserable hospitals, dying. Give them something. At least that way they can show up on Sunday at your church.” (Kidder: 232) Deo, like Farmer made many efforts in any way possible to help those were disadvantaged. Deo’s goal was to make health care more accessible for those in these small towns so that they too can reap the benefits of living near a hospital that could at least help ease some of their pain. Even though Deo knew that Paul Famer an advisor for him wished that he would first finish med school before he attempted to build a clinic on his own.

Deo had many dreams and aspirations in helping underserved people in the town of Kayanza. At one point Deo pointed to a sun flower and said that ‘But the sunflower seed, as everyone will tell you, has the potential to grow into an enormous flower that is bigger and taller than any of us here’. Deo was trying to make the point that the clinic that he foresaw developing here in Kayaza had great potential of serving its people. On November 7, 2007 Deo finally got to see his dreams of opening a clinic come true with the opening of not just one clinic but three as well as a pharmacy (Kidder: 256).

Farmer on the other hand tries to bring his skills attained at a first class University Harvard to places like Haiti and other countries in the Caribbean, to battle inequality around the globe and bring access to western healthcare to these areas, while he incorporates his knowledge with any sorceries or beliefs that the natives might have about medicine. Farmer takes on such tasks in Haiti like that of curing sick people from tuberculosis (TB), and battling HIV in Haiti. In the book Mountains Beyond Mountains Farmer takes on social injustices that Haiti was struggling through. There are many great examples of Farmer’s understanding of different cultures and there equal importance of playing a role in medicine for instance. In Strength in What Remains In the book Farmer and Deo have a ‘detailed’ conversation about the hard ship Deo went through but Farmer stated “I was worried about him, but I never recommended that he see a shrink. It was hard to imagine an American psychiatrist medicating him for having survived genocide in two countries” (Kidder: 157). Farmer understands that modern medicine might not have as a big impact as sorcery medicine when it comes to certain things like mental health. Sorcery plays a big role in a lot of communities, such as in the film Yesterday when she goes to see Sangoma, the traditional healer of her village, and Sangoma tells her the cause of her illness is anger that she carries between her shoulders. Even though, it is important and a lot of times it is essential to treat someone with the advice or recommended treatment by a natural healer, but this can also cause individuals like in Yesterday to decide that maybe this is the cause of my illness. This can in return prevent someone like Yesterday from going into the clinic and seeing a physician to get what might be the correct diagnosis. With the access to healthcare being as bad as it is in these communities like of that of Yesterday this might be an alternative that might discourage them from waiting in line with a great possibility that they might not even get seen that same day.

A great example of how we are interconnected on a global scale and sacrifices that people like Farmer and Deo as well as the school teacher in Yesterday and Yesterday herself is that of an African American doctor whose name was Dziwe Ntaba who left his job in New Jersey and went to work for the clinic in Kayanza, Burundi with no pay. This is a lesson that all the people reading the book can take in, and see that there are tremendously generous people who are willing to make sacrifices so that others could receive better access to healthcare. Also, Farmer contributed to the clinic built by Deo by asking a nonprofit organization called the Solar Electric Light Fund to help Kayanza( Kidder:257).

An illustration of global interconnection I believe would be that of HIV. When the disease broke out it did not discriminate and it made everyone look over borders of what and why this disease is taking place, not just in South Africa but also in the back yard of the wealthiest nations. Since, we are all interconnected on a larger scale in this world. It is up to us to take action to make changes and take guidance from such characters like Deo and Farmer “We have to think of health in the broadest possible sense,” according to Farmer (Kidder, 2003: 91). The characters displayed great courage, moral aspiration and devotion to others in their toughest of situations. As a reader one can draw lessons from these individuals and try to follow in a similar path. Helping those less fortunate and realize that there is a world outside the boundaries of our daily lives, and that people are dying because there not receiving adequate or necessary medical needs due to lack of access to healthcare.


Strength in What Remains: Tracy Kidder (2009)

Mountains Beyond Mountains: Tracy Kidder (2003)

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