Yale Lock

Gated Communities of Health

Headlines about us and them and Ebola are shining a spotlight on the gated communities of health where we live. Stark disparities in health are a fact of life around the world and, to a shocking extent, even in the U.S. Just a few miles of difference in your address can mean 20 years of difference in your life expectancy.

Thomas Eric Duncan was definitely not the first poor, uninsured person to be turned away from an emergency room when he should not have been. But his case vividly illustrates the fact that harsh disparities eventually come around to hurt everyone. Turning him away simply put more people at risk for spreading infection with the Ebola virus.

Much of the response to Ebola has been remarkable. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has formed the front line for addressing the epidemic in West Africa. Healthcare professionals from all over the world have walked away from regular jobs at home to put their own lives at risk serving people so severely affected.

The response of others is less inspiring. Taking temperatures at U.S. airports might calm a few people. But how different is it from taking off our shoes to prevent terrorism? Natural human instinct is to protect ourselves. To recognize a threat, we draw a line between “us” and “them.” And this is where health-related bias and stigma starts. “They” must have done something to bring misfortune onto themselves. We start to lock ourselves into gated communities of health.

The harm spreads regardless. An infectious plague that is not addressed at its source will spread. Noncommunicable diseases — like obesity and its complications — exact a toll on families, children, economic vitality, and even national security.

No matter how securely we lock the gates of our healthy communities, every time someone suffers needlessly, all of us will come to feel the harm.

Click here and here to read more about Médecins Sans Frontières and the response to Ebola.

Yale Lock, photograph © MelisaTG / flickr

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2 Responses to “Gated Communities of Health”

  1. October 15, 2014 at 11:28 am, Allen Browne said:

    Yup – well said.

  2. October 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm, Ted said:

    Thanks, Allen!