Tuesday, January 17, 2017

MLK and the values of public health

The 2017 World Economic Forum begins on January 17 in Davos, Switzerland. The forum brings together influential people from the political, financial and business sectors from around the globe to discuss “the big issues facing the international economy.” This year’s theme is “Responsible and Responsive Leadership.”

In anticipation of the forum, Oxfam International, “a global movement of people working together to end the injustice of poverty,” issued a report stating that just eight men in our world own as much wealth as 3.6 billion people – and that this incredible the gap is growing every year. Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International commented: "It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy."

This Oxfam report was released on the day we honor and celebrate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and echoes many of Dr. King’s core messages from 50 years ago. Sadly, the situation seems to have only gotten worse since 1967 when he stated:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. … A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. … America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities.”

This reordering has not yet happened. However, I believe the work being done to advance public health values through the Triple Aim of Health Equity with its focus on policy, system and environmental change strategies is exactly what Dr. King was advocating when he said:

“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

The role of public health is to facilitate that restructuring. As the Institute of Medicine stated, it is the job of public health “to assure the conditions in which (all) people can be healthy.” With the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. in mind, it is our job to transform the Jericho road and WE shall…