29 March 2009

Changing Perceptions of the Medical Industry

The last village we visited was Na Nong Bong, and the few short days I spent there will forever remind me of the power of people coming together. The villagers in Na Nong Bong are currently fighting an uphill battle with a mining corporation. In order to combat the destruction of their environment they have banded together. These people realize that there is strength in numbers, and are working as one.

After spending four days in the village, and a brief hospital visit, I realized that a strong community cannot exist without strong individuals. One woman in particular left a strong impression on me, her name was Leng. Leng is a 52 year-old women living in Na Nong Bong, who is very, very sick. Leng is suffering each and everyday from having dangerous levels of cyanide within her blood. Sadly, she does not know how it got into her blood and therefore cannot prevent herself from further exposure.

As a result of her condition, Leng spends the first three hours of her days in bed, afraid to get up too quickly because she may pass out. In addition to experiencing blackouts, her condition has causes her to have severe headaches, vomiting, vertigo, and the constant taste of chemicals in her throat and mouth. While this is especially hard to hear her say, what impressed me more was her perseverance in her livelihood despite the physical handicap her sickness imposes on her.

She still works as a farmer and weaver to help sustain both her family and her community, often lending her crops to other community members as well as making garments as a weaver for other people in the village. Although she still works everyday, she admits that she is not as good at working as she was before, something she has no control over. She values her community so much that she considers them her family, and works to take care of them as many of them have helped take care of her when she was too sick to contribute.

As an American student studying medicine, it is particularly hard to grasp that medical professionals are unable to offer more help, or at least information, to people like Leng. She is suffering greatly, and nobody is able to give her more than temporary relief from isolated ailments (like stomach aches). It makes me question how much medicine has become more about money than helping people.

It is obvious that a lot of money is made in the medical industry; but is it okay that people enter the medical profession for that purpose? Is it okay to want to make money off of other people’s sickness? Where exactly is the balance between medicine as a means of making people healthy, and making people rich? Is there a line? With one year left of undergraduate premedical curriculum, and a tentative plan to enroll in medical school, I find myself a little more confused about why I want to be a doctor.

I would be lying to both myself and to anyone reading this if I said I never thought about the money I would be making as a doctor. In fact, I think it is the greater influence than helping others, before coming to Thailand at least. After my experience here, I cannot say that I no longer think of money – but I certainly think of people more, people like Leng; People who strive and succeed by coming together, working as one community.

The medical community certainly has a lot of things they need to work on. And I hope that in my future studies I am able to help alleviate some of the pain I saw while in Na Nong Bong. If members of the medical community are able to come together as strongly has the villagers in Na Nong Bong than I have the utmost faith in the future of medicine.

Justin Crosbie - George Washington University


SLR said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and being so honest, Justin. "It makes me question how much medicine has become more about money than helping people." I've been thinking about this lately as well, especially since our exchange with Mr. Kriang, a village herbal medicine producer and healter. This practice focuses on preventative care rather than treatment. Prevention is not only better for health, but is more cost-effective for his patients; his fellow villagers. At the ‘modern’ medical center, people often receive anti-biotics and spend about 10,000 Baht a month on them. More than the cost of medicines, biomedical care is often quite expensive, even for Thai citizens who belong to the 30 Baht universal health care program. Mr. Kriang explained to me the Thai practice of Kaiyocrou. Most traditional doctors charge a small flat rate for every visit, as payment for civil service. Kriang has a different philosophical approach to Kaiyocrou. The families choose how much to pay, if at all. “If I ask for money, that is bad because I should help people; help society.” He wants to avoid what has turned medicine into a business. To him, the purpose of medicine is to help the people, not to make a profit.

--Sarah Robinson
CIEE Thailand Spring 2009

Kim G. said...

Thanks to both of you for sharing. I completely agree that the medical industry right now is more about making money than helping people. I think it's fine that the medical industry makes a lot of money because it requires a TON of money to invest in new drugs. However, a lot of the money is being spent on researching things like ED, diet pills, and "Restless Leg Syndrome" (whatever that is). Why isn't more money being invested in drugs for AIDS? Because most people with AIDS couldn't afford the drugs even if they existed, and the company needs to make money. Also, why isn't more emphasis placed on prevention, like Sarah already mentioned? Again, the medical companies need to make money, and they can't do that if no one is sick. I don't know what the solution is, but I don't think we can completely rely on the medical industry to keep us healthy - in the U.S., in Mexico, or anywhere.

--Kimberly Griffin
CGE Mexico, Spring 2009