Utah Valley Global Health Group

A blog about global health for those living in Utah Valley and their friends.

How bad do we want it?: Tom Davis, HUNGER, and Socrates

Posted by chads on February 14, 2007

There are few human appetites stronger than that for food. History has shown that people will do just about anything for food. Tom Davis, the current Chair of the Board of Directors for CORE, recently wrote a brief piece on the need to have more “hunger” for child survival which can be found below.

That piece got me thinking about motivations and priorities. The reason millions of people die of diseases that are easily preventable and treatable is, in my mind, straight forward: we as a global community think that other things are more important. Some priorities that prevent effective global health interventions from saving lives seem obvious: we prefer materialism to health, we think other causes are more important, we feel that our time is best spent elsewhere. Other priorities that get in the way of effective global health interventions might not seem so obvious: political or personal philosophies are disguised as public health programs, humanitarian work focuses more on the givers and their experiences than on results, or academic work and research neglects global health. It seems that we want our political philosophy, big house, free time, feeling of importance, etc. more than we want global health.

In any case, Tom’s piece also reminded me of a story by Socrates about a human appetite possibly stronger than hunger for food: hunger for air. (I can’t remember where it came from, and I haven’t been able to find it, so maybe the story is just made up.  I think it has a good point, anyway. If you do know of the source, let me know!):

A man came to Socrates and asked him for truth. Socrates quickly dismissed him, telling him to come back when he really wanted the truth. This experience repeated itself several times, with the man coming back and asking for truth, until Socrates took the man down to a body of water and stuck his head under the water. The man began struggling, and choking, and gasping for air. At the point that he was about to fall unconscious, Socrates pulled him out of the water and left him, saying, “when you want truth as much as you wanted air, come back.”

People will stop suffering and dying of diseases like malaria, diarrhea, AIDS, pneumonia, and starvation when every one – politicians, academics, donors, clinicians, public health officials, lawyers, economists, humanitarians, and regular citizens – views the current global health situation as unacceptable. We must want it to change more than we currently do. Once we want it to change, we will find a way.

Here’s Tom’s piece:

This statement from the article (below) on the excellent drop in
under-five deaths from measles struck me: “The study authors
believe it may be possible to eradicate the disease altogether, but
they said there appeared to be ‘little appetite’ for the effort required
to achieve this.”

Too little appetite is usually not the problem of the North, but in this
case, the author is right on target. Our appetite is for energy, food,
and things that do not fill us with joy rather than experiencing a
hunger and thirst for righteousness – for bringing about in the world
the sort of things that we know should be happening, like the
eradication of polio and measles and finding the six billion dollars a
year needed to cut child deaths by over half in the world. We are
not hungry enough for it, and we have not told our story in such a
way as to make decision makers hungry for it.

Make it your New Years resolution this year to become hungry for
these things and to make others hungry for them. We need to
become infected with this hunger and infect everyone we know. It’s
painful to me, but I now know and fully accept that the problem of
child deaths can be virtually eliminated in our lifetime. And given
the slow progress, it’s unacceptable that more is not being done.
We are by no means lazy in this community, but I do feel we need
a new approach. We come up with more and more elegant and
powerful interventions. But the idea that child deaths can be
virtually eliminated at low cost is not sweeping our countries, and
we are the ones that need to tell that story loud and clear, over and

How bad do we want it?


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