The Right to Health

In lieu of the annual “All-School Read” assignment, Middlesex students have been asked this year to think about the “ethics of opportunity” – to consider the kinds of advantages that some people enjoy while others lack access to those benefits. Guest speakers in September shed light on the opportunities of education and finances, showing how having access to both can make the difference between poverty and security in people’s lives. On October 22, the community focused on the issue of medical care during an evening presentation by Emily Dally, the director of impact at Partners In Health (PIH).

Founded in 1987, PIH is a Boston-based nonprofit health care organization that “believes everyone deserves access to health care, wherever you live and whether you are rich or poor,” as Ms. Dally affirmed. “PIH is delivering health care around the world,” she continued. “Our work is really about social justice.”

While PIH began its work in Haiti, the organization is now operating in 10 countries, entering only at the invitation of a country’s ministry of health. “Many countries lack adequate resources to deliver care to their people in need,” Ms. Dally explained. “PIH helps them build up the resources to change this.” Collaborating with existing clinics, hospitals, and other people and systems, PIH trains health workers not only to provide care but to follow up on and address conditions that affect health, such as nutrition and education. “We practice social medicine to heal the whole person, not just their diseases,” Ms. Dally stated.

Of her own career, Ms. Dally said that she did not think about public health until she was a Cornell undergraduate and began to wonder, “What do I want the world I live in to look like?” Her desire to make a difference eventually led her to earn a master’s in public health at Yale University and to assist community health organizations in Haiti and Senegal. She joined PIH in 2012 and has held various roles there; in her current position, Ms. Dally tries to measure the work of PIH, gathering data to show the progress and changes being made.

“Healthcare is a way to start fighting for equity,” Ms. Dally said. Although students might think that they can only get involved by being doctors or nurses, she stressed that a variety of professionals are needed to make an impact, including researchers, activists, educators, advocates, and fundraisers.

With their astute questions, Middlesex students wanted to know how health problems and solutions differed from place to place, how PIH is funded, and what “fighting dogma” looks like in action. “It was once acceptable to say that it wasn’t possible or worthwhile to fight HIV in Haiti,” Ms. Dally replied. “PIH is showing what is possible.”