By Joseph Reardon
Guyana is unlike any country where I’ve lived before. Nestled along South America’s northern coast, with a population that is ethnically a melting pot of Afro-Caribbean, East Indian, Native American, Chinese, and Brazilian people, this tiny country feels like an international airport relocated in a tropical backwater. My neighbors are from the US, Brazil, Germany, Serbia, and India. Warm, humid evenings here are filled with the beats of Bollywood, Reggae, Country and even Latin. Yet, Guyana seems sheltered from sectarian violence – while our emergency department sees a host of late night street brawls akin to North America, the targeting of people by their ethnicity or origin is remarkably rare.
Georgetown Public Hospital is a perfect microcosm of this hyperdiversity. With a full host of nascent residency training programs, the hospital has cobbled together specialists from the US, Canada, China, Cuba and elsewhere to offer a full complement of medical services. Each of us is an ambassador of sorts for our own region. I and my patients have never been to China, but they know that the surgeons from China treated them with remarkable dignity and respect.
My patients inevitably ask me about the people of the US. Most Guyanese have family or friends in the US, but it still feels to them like a very foreign place. In this election year, every speech on television triggers new questions: Do most people in the US really want to expel Muslims from the country? Will US-led bombing campaigns on the other side of the world ever slow down? Do people in the US actually know about the rest of our hemisphere?
I don’t always have good answers to these questions, but my work here offers a counter-example. My patients see that in our emergency department, all people are cared for to the best of our ability, we take time to listen to each person, and we check our preconceptions at the door.
Recent scenes from the Olympics in Rio have shown heartwarming scenes of athletes from rival countries embracing each other. The Olympics have been described as worth every penny in their ability to promote global peacemaking, but the Olympics have a set schedule and peacemaking knows no seasons.
Global health itself is worth every penny in global peacemaking. If we could tweet out the cross-cultural bridges built during every patient-provider interaction in hospitals like ours, we would dwarf the Olympics in size. Recent articles have described how global health should be situated prominently in the foreign policy plans of governments. The far more difficult and important challenge is to discover how global health efforts can change the hearts and minds of more people and become bridges of peace every day.