On Sunday, June 16, 2019 Father’s Day will be celebrated in the United States. Some form of this day is now celebrated in over 111 countries. The day is intended to recognize fathers and father figures for the significant role they play in parenthood and their children’s lives. Even with this, I often wonder if we (including fathers) fully understand the significant role fathers can have and are having in ensuring healthy outcomes for their families and society as a whole.
Much has been documented (rightfully so) about the role mothers embrace in rearing their children, ensuring quality healthcare and economic stability for their families. Yet, fathers continue to be labeled as, “missing in action,” “deadbeat” or “emotionally detached.” Many of these labels have been well earned, but I continue to be encouraged by the powerful stories that we receive from fathers and about fathers. These stories are changing the paradigm in regards to how fathers are actively participating in improving global health outcomes for their families and their communities. Two very heartwarming stories come to mind.
First, on a trip to Nicaragua in 2015, I was presented with a photo and a heartwarming story from Diego who had received a donation of a Mobility Cart from MedShare. Mobility Carts are wheeled transport vehicles designed to allow individuals to use their hands rather than their legs to propel the cart and move around with dignity. Over 70 million people worldwide do not have the use of their legs. In many of the developing countries, these individuals crawl in the dirt and are ostracized by their communities. Diego, whose native language is Spanish, took several weeks to have his letter translated into English to share with me. He writes that the transport cart saved his life and gave his family more stability. A debilitating disease caused Diego to lose the use of his legs. He also had lost all self-esteem, because he could not provide and care for his family. With this new “life-saving vehicle,” he is happier, able to work and contribute to the well-being of his family. His children now look up to him rather than away from him.
Another story of encouragement and hope came to us from Dr. Ibrahim Kassim of the Aysaita Hospital in Ethiopia. In 2014, MedShare began an ambitious project with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health to help them strengthen their health system by providing critical medical supplies, equipment, and training. Many of the hospitals in Ethiopia lacked basic medical supplies and equipment. Doctors, like Dr. Ka
ssim, helplessly watched patients die, because the tools they so desperately needed to save lives were unavailable. The project was completed in 2017, providing over $9 million worth of lifesaving supplies and equipment to support Ethiopia’s healthcare. Dr. Ibrahim wrote us and stated, “I will never forget the one particular child I was unable to treat due to a lack of medical equipment and supplies.” In addition to strengthening their health system for the long-term, these donations from MedShare enabled healthcare professionals like Dr. Kassim to save countless lives. As a result, patients like Hannan, the little girl pictured with Dr. Kassim in the photo, and others can live happy and healthy lives. Not only is Dr. Kassim a doctor, he also is a father. His connection with the children he cares for is deeply personal for him.
These stories and stories like these are great examples of how fathers are changing the script on how they are perceived and the level of participation and concern they have for caring for their families and reshaping the landscape of global health. Beyond these individual stories of hope and community healing, fathers continue to be in key leadership positions within the global health administration framework. Whether they are doctors, nurses, technicians, Health Ministers, politicians or heads of global NGOs, like myself, fathers have been entrusted to make good and informed decisions regarding health care for society as a whole. So on this day, that’s set aside to celebrate and honor our fathers, let’s remember those who are setting the standard for generations to follow and pray for those in leadership that their decisions be sound, fact-based and inclusive.
Happy Father’s Day!