I was born in the late nineties in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Because of this, I am expected to live to be around 80 years old. If I was born just 195km north, I would have been born in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. I would have lived to be only 68 years old. The truth is, I have done nothing special to have my life expectancy be more than ten years longer than a baby born on the same day to parents a couple hundred kilometres away from where I was born.
This is the reality I was introduced to on the first day of the McGill Interprofessional Global Health Course. Dr. Madhukar Pai was our first lecturer and after going through different income levels around the world, statistics on the general trends in global health, he told us about his daughter. He said that his daughter could live a long healthy life, not because of any special reason, but because she was born in Canada. This was a sobering moment, and his words stayed with me throughout the entire course.
It was privilege that had allowed me to live past the age of five, get more than a decade of free education, and get medical help whenever I needed it. It was privilege that had allowed me to sit in class that day and only then have a sobering moment after living twenty years without batting an eye as to what health meant globally. It is privilege that put my life expectancy at 80 years. Had I been born to an average family like mine just a bit up north past the borders of my own country, you can imagine how different my life would be right now.
If I haven’t made it clear enough, I believe that the basic foundations in which we understand global health must be connected to the topic of privilege. After understanding privilege, global health should be connected to equity. Health is extremely complex; there are numerous determinants of health that affect our quality of life from infancy to old age. Additionally, these determinants of health are often things that we have very little or absolutely no control over. These topics can be complex and difficult to explain, especially to younger audiences, but that is never an excuse to exclude young minds from exploring new areas of knowledge.
Through the experiences of the main characters Sal and Tal, I wanted to explore what differences in health actually look like, what being healthy means, what privilege is, its connection to health, and how equity can be a foundation in which we build solutions to the problems identified in the field of global health. In order to create meaningful changes to the world we live in, discussions on privilege should be a subject matter that younger students can openly learn about and examine.
Complacency or even indifference in the things that we cannot control are not justifications for our acceptance on the state of our realities. Instead of shrugging our shoulders at our inability to choose, we must acknowledge that we have done nothing to legitimize the privileged positions we hold. Therefore, individuals in less privileged situations have done nothing to warrant any hardships that follow their everyday lives. Because privilege is a part of the reality we must live with, the logical solution would be practices of equity. When sharing is consensual, especially on the receiving end, sharing really is the ultimate way of caring for one another.
Through this story, I hope for people of all ages to gain a moment of reflection on our own lives. What does it mean to be healthy and what are the things that affect health? How is my health being affected right now and how am I affecting the health of others? What can I share to enhance the quality of life for everyone on this planet? After this reflection, I hope for it to generate discussions that will ultimately allow for practices of empathy and equity to be implemented globally.
April 23 2020