Surprisingly, we are not as unhealthy as one might guess. A graphical representation of the state of our world over the last two centuries has been prepared by Max Roser, an economist at the University of Oxford. Take a look at falling rates of child mortality, a sensitive indicator of overall community health. The progress, especially in the last half-century, has been astounding.
Of course health does not improve in a vacuum. The dramatic reduction in rates of extreme poverty and rise in basic education have much to contribute to health. The rise in democracy in parts of the world promotes the flow of ideas, collaboration and creativity.
Roser points out that it is ever more astounding that these rates have improved despite a dramatic rise in the population of the world during the same period. Wealth has actually been created during this time; the economies of the world have grown and even overtaken the rise in population. When I was younger there was a great fear that a rising population would mean less for each person (the so called “lifeboat theory”). God has created man and the world in such a way that we have the potential to create and distribute wealth. It is not a ‘zero-sum game.’
It is hard to appreciate how well off many of us are compared to our great great grandfathers and mothers. In those days (and even in some impoverished communities today), under-five’s mortality rates could approach 50% of all children born.
As Christians this kind of presentation helps to focus our action! Caring for the poor and marginalized means we go after that 10% in extreme poverty. They may be hard to reach, sometimes suffer from oppression and violence beyond what we can imagine, including war, violence at home, and all types of deprivation. As Christian health professionals it is our privilege to lay aside our desire for comfort and wealth, and serve those who Jesus referred to when he said, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:36)
It is an encouragement to know that as believers in Christ we can join with good people all over the world in order to press on in this battle for those who less well off than ourselves. That sense of direction gives Christian healthcare a distinctive impulse, since we care about people made in God’s image, body, soul and spirit.