“We the Peoples of the United Nations, determined to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small ...” — United Nations Charter

The young man was sleeping on the side of the road, and I struggled with myself as to what to do. He had a sleeping bag and a backpack. He was prepared, I suppose, but clearly life was different for him than for me.

I ended up not stopping for a variety of reasons, but the sight of him has stayed with me for a very long time.

When I stopped working directly with individuals at a shelter for homeless individuals, it was much the same — my heart couldn’t handle the pain it felt at not being able to save people from the inequities I saw. I am not alone in finding value in the lives of others, though, as made clear in the charter of the United Nations. How do we both enjoy our lives of plenty while honoring the dignity and worth of others who have not enough?

I still see the inequities and am still trying to find a way to fix them, but I’ve learned I have to work through others — I’m one of those “extra feelings people.” It pains me when I hear people talk about those who have made mistakes or not been able to climb out of the hole they are in.

I take heart as April 7 is World Health Day every year. “The World Health Day theme for 2021 is ‘Building a fairer, healthier world’, highlighting the fact that access to basic healthcare is still very unequal, and many people around the world still struggle to be treated for their health issues.” — (calendar.com). I do realize you will read this AFTER April 7, but I think we can pay attention every day to the importance of helping our fellow human beings live in a fairer and healthier world.

Having heard a lot about the W.H.O. the past year, especially, I wanted to be clear what it is – the World Health Organization, part of the United Nations. Its main objective: “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.” All peoples. That includes the dirty guy sleeping on the side of the street in a makeshift home of cardboard and the uppity woman living in the house with much splendor. All peoples. Even the people we think are undeserving count as all peoples.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services. — Article 25 of the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Many people don’t agree with the United Nations nor the W.H.O. about many things, so there’s a chance you don’t agree with them about this. So, I’ll ask you to consider for a minute who you believe is deserving of having access to basic healthcare, and what do you and I believe actually qualifies as basic healthcare? It has been difficult to find one definition but it seems most sources agree that basic healthcare means providing the most basic way for people to be able to “pursue life goals, reduce pain and suffering, and help prevent premature loss of life, and provide information to plan for their lives.” (AMA)

If we expect people to know how to parent, to know that beating their children into submission or torturing a spouse is unacceptable, but we don’t have a way to be sure they’ve been taught that, are we providing basic healthcare?

If we want to punish someone who doesn’t take their child to a doctor when the child is sick, but we also want to shame them for not being able to afford to take their child to the doctor, are we wanting to provide basic healthcare?

To me, then, we can pretty easily define basic healthcare as those things we expect people to do to keep themselves and their families healthy but are tempted to shame them for not knowing how or being able to afford to do for themselves. You are allowed to disagree with me, but after the many people I’ve listened to put down others who can’t or don’t know how to take care of themselves, I am positive that is a great starting place.

Teach people how to brush their teeth and why they should brush their teeth. Teach people how to bathe and why bathing is important. If it’s a basic function of your everyday life that offends you when other people don’t do it, I think it probably qualifies as basic healthcare.

I believe basic healthcare begins at birth. I will celebrate World Health Day by promoting the things I believe should be considered basic healthcare, beginning with facts about nutrition (and the fortified cereal loaded with sugar is not what I consider to be meeting a basic need).

When we provide money for people to purchase groceries for their family, but all it affords them is the least healthy choices, I do not believe we are providing basic healthcare.

I saw a young friend share recently that she was breastfeeding her baby (a great nutritional beginning), and she was also pumping extra milk to donate to babies who are in need of this precious gift. Human Milk Banking can hook you up with one of the non-profit groups donating mother’s milk. This, to me, is an example of basic healthcare many could be supporting.

I would love to hear back (stories@susanbsteen.com) about ways you have found we can better support basic healthcare in our communities and around the world.

Each year, we celebrate World Health Day on April 7, and I will celebrate throughout April and 2021 and stand with the W.H.O. to seek ways this year to help build a fairer and healthier world. I hope you will, too.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (stories@susanbsteen.com).

Recommended for you