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Resocializing Ethics

We, as a collective humanity, have a moral obligation to ensure that all humans are ensured their basic human rights, particularly adequate health care. Yet we are often ignorant and forget about our duty. In Paul Farmer’s chapter titled, “New Malaise,” he asks, “how often have we challenged the chicanery that leads us to forget that we are part of the same world?” (211). Farmer talks about the need to “resocialize the way we see ethical dilemmas in medicine” (210). Ethics are an essential part of Western medicine; yet here lies the issue: medical ethics are often limited to industrialized nations. Care is greatly individualized in the U.S, and there is nothing wrong with this. Yet the opposite is true in many developing countries, where effective technology and treatment is withheld from the sick because it is not “cost-effective” or “feasible.” I found one of Farmer’s anecdotes very ironic, and it illustrates this issue well:

“In Haiti I am called to explain, to those who come begging for assistance, that effective treatments for HIV are not ‘cost-effective,’ whereas in Boston I spend much of my time begging patients with AIDS—some of them originally from Haiti—to take these same medications” (204).

Why are the poor left with such inferior care? While conducting the interview for our group podcast, my teammates and I had the opportunity to learn about the trauma experienced by Darfuri refugees living in Chad. I asked about the availability of mental health care for victims of sexual violence, children who have witnessed their parents killed, etc. Gabriel Stauring, the founder of an NGO that works with refugees in Chad, stated that mental health care isn’t a priority. Many children are not able to be kids, they rarely smile, and have been greatly affected by the Darfuri conflict. I find this disappointing, as it would be considered critical to provide mental health treatment to American children who have experienced such trauma.


Bredjing, a refugee camp in eastern Chad (The New Yorker)

The mental health care system in Africa as a whole is disheartening. This article about the need for community-based health care in Africa is very interesting. I found this statistic shocking: “In Ethiopia, for example, there are only 18 psychiatrists for 77 million people, and there is no clinical psychologist, no trained social worker and only one 360-bedded mental hospital located in the capital, Addis Ababa.” In contrast, there were approximately 22,690 psychiatrists in the US in 2010, and this doesn’t even take into account the other various mental health care professionals providing care in the US. Clearly we find it a priority to address mental health in the US, and to not fight for equal care in developing countries is unethical.


Alem, Ataley. “Community-based Mental Health Care in Africa: Mental Health Workers’ Views.” World Psychiatry.

Farmer, Paul. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley: University of California, 2003.

“29-1066 Psychiatrists.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. <;.


2 responses to “Resocializing Ethics

  1. “How often have we challenged the chicanery that leads us to forget that we are part of the same world?” Farmer makes an extremely important point with this question – too many times we distance ourselves from those who are suffering (Farmer calls it exoticization), convinced that people living in other countries are somehow different than us or that even if we tried, we couldn’t do anything to really help the situation anyways. But it’s important to remember that EVERYONE is a human being, regardless of their culture, their gender, their race, or their age, and everyone has human rights that need to be upheld. As you point out by discussing the disparities in mental healthcare between the U.S. and Chad, why are some health issues concerns in some countries and completely disregarded in another? As human beings, we have a moral right to each other to protect the human rights of all people, and this includes access to healthcare.

  2. I believe it is very interesting this inequality of medical treatment between the developing and developed nations. The technology is available and yet, not everyone has equal access to it. I think it’s interesting that you highlight mental health and the lack of psychiatrists in developing nations compared to the US. This inequality is often just accepted and not really acknowledged as an inequality. However, shouldn’t everyone have the right to mental health care?

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