Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why Global Health in Africa: Warren Buffett and the Ovarian Lottery

This is an excerpt from something I wrote about why I'm working on Global Health Delivery projects. As mentioned, one project is Moca, an open-source mobile diagnosis and imaging solution for the developing world. Another, through MIT's Global Entrepreneurship Lab is with the Mass Development Association of Dar-es-Salaam, in Tanzania.

When I met the great Warren Buffett last year, he said something that really stuck in my mind. He told us to imagine it is the day before you are born, and there is going to be an ovarian lottery to determine what person you will be. You could be born rich or poor, mentally retarded or brilliant, healthy or diseased, in America or Africa. Mr. Buffett’s question to us was as follows: not knowing which lottery number you would draw, what type of society would you design? Answer the question, and this should define your views and priorities on what type of world we should live in and work to create.

In this way, Mr. Buffett justifies both capitalist society and a progressive and humane one. He believed that capitalism meant “lots of stuff” would be created, making a bigger pie for everyone. It also means that though of us who were lucky enough to draw a good number have a moral imperative to do what they can to help those who are less fortunate. Since I believe in both the capitalist aspect, and the part about creating a more progressive and just world, it is important to me to be a part of projects like the Mass Development Association one in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania we will be working on, and the mobile imaging project I work on outside of class. This is not just about helping on a once off basis– it is about working to create a sustainable model as a part of long-term change to create a more just society globally.

Every person in Africa deserves a chance. This means living to a reasonable age, a chance at education and social mobility. The first and greatest stumbling block to providing this opportunity is health care. If you are not healthy, or you are infected with AIDS or malaria or tuberculosis, the roadblocks to becoming successful and having a chance at upward social mobility is extremely limited. Similarly, if your loved ones are burdened by these diseases, these are further challenges to overcome or may require a family member to focus economic work time and financial resources on care or feeding the family rather than education or a career or entrepreneurship.

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