Op-Ed: Politics and Public Health – Why I Cared About Obama 2012

Politics and Public Health – Why I Cared about Obama 2012

By JEANNE UMUHIRE

A good week of an introductory module on the environment of the humanitarian health action right after the so widely talked about American presidential elections, cannot leave me without a few thoughts to share. As I took a close look at these past presidential elections, I kept having mixed feelings. Firstly, I surprised myself by being so worried about the outcome of these elections. After all, I am certainly not American and four years spent in South Carolina have, if anything, proved to me that the U.S. is not the country in which I want to settle in (although I am not quite sure if I will ever settle in any country for that matter…). The other interesting fact is that in my opinion, the U.S. is way too decentralized as a nation, for us to think that the entire country’s destiny is in the hands of just one man, its’ president. And yet, somehow, I believe that a president remains a powerful representation of his country. In the case of the U.S., Obama’s victory shows that eloquence, audacity and perseverance really do matter. One of the key things that put Obama is his current position is the fact he was successful in captivating his voters and aligned them to follow his lead. The fact that his father was actually not American himself, or the fact that Barack Obama had an interesting (and I can even say difficult) upbringing did not negatively affect the votes of Americans. All that really counts for those who believe in his ability to lead them is who he is today and what he stands for.

As I closely followed these past elections, I was curious to see if Obama would manage to conquer the hearts of Americans once again despite the fact that “the change” he made us believe in did not really happen. Or maybe it did but not in the way we all imagined it would. For me, the disillusion was actually short lived. Shortly after Obama’s first victory in 2008, I was confronted with the quick realization that those around me had not chosen him as their leader. But again, why should they have elected a president who promised to tax them more and even worse did not look like them? But that is the thing about being human, and the concept of humanity in general. Should we seek to act solely for our own benefit or should our own comfort be weighed against the betterment of those around us? Honestly, if I had not been confronted with the situation where I often made the choice not to go see a doctor regardless of my need to do so (and despite the fact that I was both a pre-med student and volunteered in one of the best hospitals in the state of South Carolina), I certainly would not be in the position to understand the urgent need to put in effect the “Obamacare” act. To the question of whether my stay in the U.S was illegal, I would answer NO! And to that of whether I was insured, I would answer a firm YES! However, just like a growing proportion of the American population, I never let go of the fear of one day contracting a severe disease which might have forced me to prematurely return home. The irony in that situation of course would have been that my chances of accessing care in my home country, a third world country, were much better than those of being properly treated at a low cost in the US. So if you ask me today why I care about Obama, the U.S. political situation or politics in general, I would answer: because of everything.

One cannot live in a society and deny the existence of politics and actually caring about them. This responsibility gains weight the more education one obtains. I would admit that my first interest in Obama and admiration came from the fact he was the first African American president. His story spoke to me and his courage inspired me each time I would enter class back in college and realize that once again I was the minority student in the class. However, a closer look at what Obama actually stood for made me realize the importance of politics in the public health realm. Actually, I cannot think of a single thing that does not make public health all about politics. It has to do with the economy, decision making, policy implementation and… the economy some more!

For now however, I will simply stick to issues that were brought up during the presidential campaign that one would directly associate to public health such as the health care reform act and abortion. Allow me to detail you my take on the latter.

If we take a close look at the current state of affairs concerning conflicting opinions on abortion, you would obtain two camps: pro-life and the other one being pro-choice. Notice the fact that both sides are actually referred to by very different names, if one side was pro-life and its opponent “against-life” maybe things would be different. But that is not the case. The actual situation is that people oppose each other’s point of view based on moral beliefs. If you ask me, I would of course say that abortion is a horrible thing. Who would claim that interrupting pregnancy was an enjoyable process? In my opinion, the women who go through this difficult procedure certainly would rather not have to go through it. But examining the issue in a perspective that allows us to factor in a lot more than our moral beliefs, then our stand on whether abortion should be illegal or legal may change. Firstly, one should think about one simple thing. What would actually happen if abortion was made illegal in the states? In my opinion, “lives” (depending on whether we consider embryos as human beings) would not be saved. Instead, there is a risk to actually lose more lives. What would happen in such a situation is that the rates of clandestine abortions would go sky high. More women would have to make the difficult choice of not only getting aborted but moreover they would have to do so in horrible conditions that would put them in danger. In the end, we would not only lose lives to be but those of desperate women as well. And again, that is the reason why I strongly adhere to president Obama’s take on this and so many other issues.

And lastly, before I leave you with my take on things to ponder upon, I would say that politics are what paints the public health field, be it in epidemiology, management or humanitarian health. In the end, our collaborative efforts have to matter and in order for these to do so there needs to be policy implementation around them and that of course cannot be achieved without the involvement of politicians, whether or not we like them and no matter what they stand for or what they look like.

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