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#HeroesOnTheFrontline: Finding Inspiration from Clinicians Around the World

A clinician in PPE talks with a patient

In hindsight, my transition to an advocate for health justice seemed somewhat predestined. I came of age during the latter stages of the AIDS epidemic, during a time when dial-up internet represented the only means of accessing the world wide web. I spent hours poring over every article I could find that even tangentially applied to the AIDS epidemic that served as the ultimate boogey man in my abstinence-only sex education class. What struck me then was the clear inconsistency along socioeconomic lines. I had a lot of questions that needed answering, including why the disease seemed to be hitting communities of color disproportionately to white ones. I tried to discuss this with my parents, who were less than keen on their sixth grader’s sudden interest in a disease that, as far as they were concerned, would never be an issue for them.

I never received any answers to my satisfaction, but one thing I did receive was a wake-up call to the importance of health justice. Since coming to MCN, health justice has also meant learning to recognize that health justice is not a monolithic entity. As it turns out, it is more akin to a machine, with vastly moving parts. Health justice means both accessibility and affordability. It means delivering a culturally competent medical model. It means treating the whole person as the individual they are, rather than preassigning a method to them based on the assumption of who they might be. And, as I discovered at MCN, it means recognizing and supporting the frontline clinicians who continue to show up and do the work, day in and day out.

I am fortunate that early in my career, I met a frontline provider who has become one of my personal heroes. Her name is Ibu Robin Lim, a midwife who is credited with single-handedly driving down Indonesian infant and maternal mortality rates through opening her own birth center in Bali. Yayasan Bumi Sehat, which means Healthy Mother Earth Foundation in Sanskrit, provides maternal care to the most indigent Indonesian families, many of whom are migrant or otherwise transitive. Her incredible feats lead to international recognition.

In 2011, CNN named her the Hero of the Year, and as luck would have it, I spent an evening with her shortly before she accepted the award. When I asked her about the greatest takeaway from her career as an advocate, she replied, “That I must always be doing something to help someone else, someone not as lucky as me, or I will die.” Laughing a little, she also revealed that connecting with other people similarly called to help proved to be the most effective strategy for changemaking.

This year, heroes on the frontline are particularly in the spotlight. We see the nurses minding the ICU where COVID-19 patients threaten to overrun their facilities, the doctors staffing at underfunded clinics, the attorneys working at the border to secure the release of their clients, or the case managers carrying far too burdensome of a load for a single professional. We see them here at MCN – like Laszlo Madaras, MD, MPH, our Chief Medical Officer caring for COVID-19 patients in the hospital, and Kaethe Weingarten, PhD, our Witness to Witness Director helping clinicians recognize and work through stress during this pandemic, and Luis Retta, with MCN’s Health Network, ensuring that a patient with TB can continue his treatment even though as they migrate elsewhere. These are the heroes occupying every space in which we engage, and it is in their honor that our campaign, #HeroesOnTheFrontline, has launched.

While 2020 has certainly been a year where the worst of humanity has arguably been on display, the world has nevertheless been blessed with an abundance of heroes. Within MCN, we saw this development firsthand in our call to the community at large to nominate a present hero on the frontline for our inaugural Kugel & Zuroweste Health Justice Award. Each application presented an incredible force for good, battling against COVID amongst our most vulnerable communities. Picking just one winner—who will be announced on Dec. 1, this year’s Giving Tuesday—presented a Herculean effort amongst our staff, and underscored the reality that while some of these heroes are known to us, the vast majority are making a difference and often under the radar.

It is on that note that we challenge our supporters to ask, what heroes exist in your life? Help us shine the spotlight by sharing your story with the hashtag #HeroesOnTheFrontline, including our GoFundMe link to continue broadcasting our GivingTuesday campaign now!


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