what is it like to need healthcare?

by Anjali Sastry on October 22, 2010

What are the needs in global health delivery and management? There are many ways to tackle this question, and a new MIT Sloan class explores the issues from a variety of perspectives, focusing on what managers and leaders of organizations can do to address needs in innovative ways.

But before we tackle innovation and business models, and even before we look at the system and the issues, it’s important to know what it’s like to be poor and in poor health. What is it like to need healthcare and face severe resource constraints? There are unmet needs for health all over the world, and the following materials give you a vivid sense of what this means for ordinary people. We include something about the experience of people living with AIDS in America, too.


“Mountains Beyond Mountains”, by Tracy Kidder (Random House 2003) is a readable introduction to the needs for and challenges in delivering healthcare in resource-poor settings.

Check out “28 stories“–you can read excerpts online–by a journalist who documents the lives and experiences of people living with AIDS in Africa.

To learn about maternal mortality in Peru, read a brief report from the field entitled Dying to Give Birth”, published in Health Affairs in 2009. Nellie Bristol connects the story of women’s experience in childbirth with an overview of the health system available to the poor. Also in Health Affairs in 2009, novelist Alexander McCall Smith tells a vivid narrative of illness in Botswana in In The Midst Of Sickness.”

watch videos

Some health problems impose huge burdens on communities and yet get little attention. How do they affect peoples’ everyday lives? Watch a moving video about obstetric fistula, “A Walk to Beautiful“.

For sheer inspiration, this video about Zanmi Lasante in Haiti is also compelling:  The Abundance Foundation created the short film, “Haiti’s Heroes,” to tell the story of Dr. Kobel Dubique, who runs the Partners In Health Clinic located in the largest displaced persons camp in Haiti. The film was produced in collaboration with the students and staff of the Ciné Institute, Haiti’s only film school.

Haiti’s Heroes Trailer from Abundance Foundation on Vimeo.

MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab applies academic tools to anti-poverty efforts. To explore the nature of  health problems in rural India,  Abhijit Banerjee and Tuli Banerjee documented the experience of illness in rural India in a film, “The Name of the Disease.”

multimedia presentations

Kidder’s writing and the stories and videos are compelling, but for another motivating introduction, look at XDRTB.org, where James Nachtwey’s powerful photographs tell the story of extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) and TB; see commentary here and scroll down for more content on the disease.

Get a vivid sense of the danger of childbirth in this photo essay and commentary, “Dying to Give Birth: One Woman’s Tale of Maternal Mortality” by a  TIME photographer. Also read the story accompanying this account of  the harrowing final hours of life for 18-year-old Mamma Sessay in Sierra Leone.

Or, view a New York Times multimedia presentation in which eight men and women speak about their experiences living with HIV in America.

PIH founder Paul Farmer talks about his belief in healthcare as a human right in this short radio essay with accompanying photographs.

learn about tuberculosis

This sequence of clips from a 2005 PBS series tell about multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and the work of Jim Kim and the 3 by 5 effort. Dr. Kim and his colleagues have changed the way the world combats multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
Part I: Poverty and the Rise of MDR TB in Peru (3:49)
Part II: Everyone Around Her is at Risk (8:20)
Part III: Facing TB Head-On (4:56)
Part IV: Reason to Endure (3:40)
For more, check out the site for the entire series, Rx for Child Survival.

Watch “The Human Face of TB,” an informational flash film–it’s a recently-made online presentation designed to convey the issues in a compelling way.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: