By Dr. Kashef Ijaz, Vice President-Health, and Barbara J. Smith, Vice President-Peace, The Carter Center
Back in the turbulent 1960s, there was a popular poster — today it would be a meme on social media — that said, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”
More than 50 years and uncounted conflicts later, that poster’s message holds up. War and regional or factional clashes catastrophically disrupt everything from commerce to education to food and medical supply chains. And many countries have shown how public grievances around social services, particularly health care, can drive a society to conflict either through competition for resources or in protest against their government. A reliable health care system can function as a bulwark against conflict driven by these grievances as well as ensure that citizens living with conflict have their most basic needs met.
Integrating peace and health work is not a new concept for The Carter Center. In 1995, former President Jimmy Carter brokered a cease-fire in Sudan’s long-running civil war, allowing health workers to enter the conflict zone to administer vaccines and treatments for a variety of serious diseases and conditions that were compounding the suffering of innocents. The Guinea Worm Cease-Fire has gone down in history as the longest humanitarian truce ever carried out.
Today, The Carter Center is engaged in what we call the Peace-Health Nexus . We are actively working in volatile places — the South Darfur region of Sudan and the Mopti region of Mali, to name two — to promote health system enhancements in the interest of fostering peace and vice versa.
The Center’s Conflict Resolution Program promotes a community-based approach to conflict mitigation and resilience-building to both reduce violence and increase access to regions in dire need of basic health services. By providing the tools and the common platform of health for dialogue between health workers, local communities, and conflicting parties, the Center has brought people together and opened access for people to get the health services and treatment they need.
In Mali, the Center is advancing local communities’ ability to reduce violence and create conditions for health interventions in difficult-to-access zones, especially important for the Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program. In South Darfur, where Guinea worm hasn’t been seen in decades but blinding trachoma remains a threat, the Center is doing similar work.
Leaders and diplomates must pursue both peace and health, because they are inextricably entwined. The Carter Center acknowledges as much in its motto: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope. We will continue to pursue all three with all the energy we have and every resource at our disposal.