“You’re a hero.” Daniel Carvalho I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this from well-intentioned friends and family. They send messages of praise for the work I’ve done over the past decade, addressing rural health and infectious diseases in India (where I was born), Mozambique, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Thailand, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Uganda.
Daniel Carvalho toggle caption
Abraar Karan spent time in rural India in 2008 while working for Unite for Sight, a nonprofit group that provides eye care. Above: He interviews a woman about the challenge of living from severe cataracts. hide caption
And now with the COVID-19 crisis, many of us in the West who work in academic global health have largely “stayed home.” In my own case, our health system restricted travel, including global health related work. Our local colleagues are leading COVID-19 responses in their communities – lacking access to the life-saving vaccines that are being hoarded by our own countries. The same was true for ventilators, and the antiviral drug Remdesivir, earlier on. These local health workers cope perpetually with the lack of paved roads, limited sanitation systems, overt poverty and a host of deadly infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and dengue.
I knew then and know now that the credit was far more deserved by my local health-care colleagues — many working in these areas their entire lives, not weeks or months. Unlike me, they didn’t always have a choice in the matter. And if something went wrong — like a global pandemic striking — many did not have the option to board a plane and fly out to somewhere safer. (To no surprise, the U.S. ended up being much less safe in the end.) In many ways, this recognition felt and still feels misplaced.
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