Interfaith Health-Care Reform

FAITH IN ACTION By Katherine Marshall Hospital waiting rooms are glum places pretty much everywhere. People, sick or injured, wait … Continued


By Katherine Marshall

Hospital waiting rooms are glum places pretty much everywhere. People, sick or injured, wait and wait and wait. Nowhere are the huge gaps between rich and poor so graphically in evidence. That’s the essence of the American health reform challenge, however deeply it gets submerged in the passionate debates now raging: to bridge those gaps so that the misery of illness is not compounded by inability to pay.

The issues are not just American, they are global. And they have many faith dimensions.

The waiting room at the Sihanouk Hospital of Hope in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is full of sick people. It’s hot and they wait outside. Faces are resigned, many show obvious pain, and worried relatives cluster nearby. But the hospital’s name is apt: Hope, because this is a well-run facility, bustling with doctors from many countries. And a central principle is that care is free of charge, and available to anyone. Cambodian people sell their last bullock and travel for days to get here. They call it the hospital of God or the hospital of angels.

The hospital’s story is unique, but there are many stories rather like it: a facility built because of a deep and faith-inspired determination to care for people. The Sihanouk Hospital came about through an alliance among a Jewish journalist and stubborn activist; a remarkable Japanese Shinto leader and philanthropist; an American Christian nongovernmental organization; and a Buddhist nation.

The principles of all these faiths can be read in the hospital’s operations. The Jewish principle of “healing the world” (Tikkun Olam), plus a dose of chutzpah led Bernie Krisher to drive to build it. Dr. Haruhisa Handa is an intuitive and creative leader and philanthropist who guarantees half the operating costs (he also financed most buildings) and, drawing on his religious beliefs, presses the philosophy and policy of generosity (no payments). Bob and Pat Gempel head HOPE worldwide, a Christian organization dedicated to responding to the needs and wishes of poor countries across the world, which provides excellent management of the hospital. For their team, the healing mission of Jesus is the inspiration. And Cambodia, whose constitution defines it as a Buddhist nation, prides itself on the core Buddhist principles of loving kindness and compassion.

So, in Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest countries, the very poorest citizens can hope to receive compassionate and excellent care at no charge. It’s an inspiring example.

There’s another inspirational story about overcoming the huge gulfs in health care: An unusual pressure group has come together across many boundaries of social group, political affiliation and nationality to support people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA). They are demanding more active financing and aggressive research on the disease. And they have taken the extraordinary position that it is unacceptable for people to die because they do not have access to treatment and care, no matter what the cost of medicines or the seeming difficulty of delivering complex treatment regimes in poor countries.

Their pressure and their solidarity has truly moved mountains and played a major part in recent sharp increases in funding for HIV and AIDS programs. They are pressing hard to extend these benefits to the millions who need care in very poor and remote areas.

Likewise, the Catholic lay Community of Sant’Egidio has pioneered treatment programs grounded in the conviction that people everywhere are entitled to the highest standard of care. That means the poorest women of Mozambique and other African countries, places that “experts” had said could not handle sophisticated regimes. Sant’Egidio has proved them wrong, quite wrong, and their adherence and results are as good as any anywhere. They see equity in health care as the most basic of human rights, the sign of a decent and caring society.

There are some messages here that those debating American health care should heed. First, where there’s a will there’s a way (and political will is what may be in shortest supply at present). If complex HIV/AIDS regimes can be delivered in rural Mozambique, surely with will the United States can manage to deliver care to all its people. Second, many ethical and religious approaches would conclude that health care is part of what our modern society, with all its knowledge, skills, and resources, owes to every human being. And third, health care is not just an American issue. H1N1 fears are a reminder that diseases know no boundaries.

The HIV and AIDS activists and Sant’Egidio believe that equity means that what is available to us should also be available to others. Surely it is time to make common cause for decent care for everyone.

Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, a Visiting Professor, and a senior advisor for the World Bank.

By Katherine Marshall | 
August 16, 2009; 12:55 AM ET

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Faith in Action

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  • coloradodog

    Church Hospitals that aren’t in it as a big, money making business? How un-Republican.

  • fathafrank

    Michael Vick has 73 comments and even more on the South Carolina flag. Shame. More need to read this. Amazing what is possible when compassionate people lead the efforts instead of waiting for the government to do something. Christians should take note. We’re not called to politics, we’re called to follow Jesus.I’ve been supporting HOPE Worldwide for years and the Sihanouk hospital was the first project I was aware of. I’ve had friends give up careers to serve there and others give up their summer breaks to volunteer there. It’s encouraging to see this blessing get media coverage. Like I said above, I hope more are reading this than have left comments. This is only one example of individuals affecting change. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain.

  • homeland1


  • homeland1

    FATHAFRANK”HOPE” is More Powerfull that “FAiTH”! Not the Otherway around. No mustard seed needed. Note: Even an Atheist or an Agonstican believe in or have faith (not religion) in “HOPE”! WHY? Because since HISTORY is our Judge, Jury & Witness; aka the BIG BANG too; that HOPE is ‘Forward Looking”, Hoping , Lurking for a Better outcome!–Sihanouk hospital does & indeed ‘secretly’ make a Profit; maybe not a prophet, but by Selling “ORGANS” (Kidneys to the Jewish & Christian Hospitals/Doctors/Specialists etc.), Imbilical Cord & STEM CELLS things & stuff for research all over the world? It’s better than Mexico.?Note: Average annual Per Capita income there is $2,000 U.S.. And 23% of KIDS less than 5 years old die prematurely! Please see Fact: out of a population of 14,000,000 the Birth & Mortality ratio in Myanmar (sounds modern), aka Cambodia (reminds world of Pol pot & Khemer Rouge HOLOCAUSTS of 2-Millio) is 115 deaths per 1,000 births. Butbut the Medium age is 21 Years old; and 50% of the Population is under 25 years old!This is NOT any kinds “interfaith Health-Care Reform” but “EXPOLITATION” of Organs or Harvisting such. Note: Doctors W/out Borders can also be an Exploiting tool (as an Religios Run ORG).Conversions of BUDDHISTS into Judeo-Christs or Judeo-Jews or Judeo-Islamic, even Judeo-Hindu is What the Religious backed ORGs are payed to do!If they can’t winn ones heart through Feeding populations; then They can win ones heart or trust by helping them indigents through Medicine/Care.CAVEAT: There are Good to Honest god/life loving DOCTORS (borders or not). But Most of Them Are Rotten to the Soul! And They are the Biggest Killers too, in some cases!

  • rohitcuny

    but the Medium age is 21 Years old; and 50% of the Population is under 25 years old!