Between the Living and the Dead
How Parashat Korah demonstrates extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.
We Need More Aarons
The kind of devotion and mettle required to stand "between the dead and the living" remains extraordinary--and rare. In those regions facing today's most serious health challenges, doctors are shockingly scarce. The World Health Organization estimated in 2006 that one in four African-trained doctors leaves the continent for work in wealthier regions, with the workforce shortage believed to only have worsened since then.In Sierra Leone, a country of over 5 million people, there are only 75 state medical doctors and 25 medical specialists; and in Liberia, population 3.5 million, there are a total of 122 doctors. In Malawi, there are two doctors and 56 nurses for every 100,000 people; in Mozambique the ratio is three doctors and 20 nurses per 100,000. By contrast, in those wealthier countries comprising the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), there are, on average, about 310 doctors for every 100,000 people.
There are, however, individuals who choose to stay and serve. People like Arthur Wright, Sierra Leone's only ear, nose, and throat specialist who trained in Europe before returning to his country. Acknowledging that many of his colleagues left during Sierra Leone's civil war, Dr. Wright explains he cannot, because: "This is my country. I have to give service to my people."
And there are those like the indomitable Denis Mukwege, who, after training in Burundi and France, has worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades, attending to the thousands of women who have been mutilated and traumatized by the rampant sexual violence that is used as a tool of war in his country.
But to dig out from this crisis, the world cannot just depend on the mettle and devotion of extraordinary people who make extraordinary efforts. The parashah informs us that after Aaron "stood between the living and the dead" he returned to Moses, who waited by the Tabernacle's entrance (Numbers 17:15). One can imagine Aaron, wending his way through the 14,700 dead and dying to collapse in his brother's arms--fatigued from effort, unburdening himself of horror.
Those supportive, powerful arms are needed today too. We need robust services to assist doctors who serve these communities; more medical schools to incubate and support local talent; and policies that will both incentivize medical workers to serve these regions and staunch the "brain drain" from them.
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