Closing Session: “What We Do and Why We Do It.” Jack Geiger’s words and how we will carry them forward

Our original plan was to have a skype presentation by Jack Geiger, but he’s unable to be present today as he is home resting. We want to honor him today.


I think about his words all the time. Jack Geiger is a Professor Emeritus at City University of New York, he is a founding member of Physicians for Human Rights and Physicians for Social Responsibility, as well as the Medical Committee for Human Rights during the Civil Rights Movement. He devoted his career to addressing issues of health, poverty, and human rights, and his work led to the development of the network of more than 1200 Community Health Centers throughout the country that provide safety net services to 22 million low income and minority patients. He was one of our past keynote speakers at a General Assembly. The title was ‘Who We Are and Why We Do What We Do.’ I go back and read this speech maybe once per year. His words continue to remind me to stay on the path. Before he was a doctor, he was a journalist, so you can see why his words hold power. At the beginning of the GA I spoke about the Flint tragedy, and he’s one of the only doctors that called this out for what it was. He’s the embodiment of liberation medicine.


We want to share some of his words with you all today:


“I took a look around and realized that I didn't need to go to Africa or Latin America or Southeast Asia. We had all the health disparities here.” (2)


“The last time I looked at my textbooks, the most specific therapy for malnutrition was food.” (2)


“When we say that the poor have a mortality rate that is multiple times the rate of the rich, when we say poor children die in our country and in the developing world at rates far higher than those of the better off, we are saying that we permit a condition which in effect says they are less worthy of life. We are sending this message because we let it happen, because we have social policies that almost assure that it will happen, and we let it happen stubbornly and continually.”


“We do not lack for data, both on mass killings and the daily tolls of individual assaults and murders with guns…Our FIRST priority at this point, I would argue, should be the political process...These reflect both the cultural/gender/racial issues listed above--but most of all they reflect the fear of politicians at these multiple levels of being attacked by hugely-funded campaigns (and cut-off of contributions) by the NRA and its subsidiaries…This effort should not just be focused on the string of mass murders (though they should of course be cited); terrible as they are, they are dwarfed by the cumulative daily tolls of individual or small-group gun violence…Too little in this discussion has been emphasizing race (other than white privilege); we all know the ugly disproportionate rates of homicide among African Americans as victims.” (7)


“And that is what we do: make a road out. We work with people to build a road out of their circumstances, out of the inequity, out of the poverty.” (3)


“That is what we are about. Like all healers we strive to heal. Like most healers, we refuse to bow down to pestilence. But we have an understanding of pestilence that it is not merely biological. It is also social, political and economic. This is the pestilence we fight along with the pestilence of biological agents and natural disease.” (3)


“There are two important lessons to be gained…that communities of the poor, all too often described only in terms of pathology, are in fact rich in potential and amply supplied with bright and creative people…[and] that health services, which have sanction from the larger society and salience to the communities they serve, have the capacity to attack the root causes of ill health through community development and the social change it engenders…” (6)


We want to thank our interpreters and organizers!!! And we thank all of you have traveled from near and far to be here with us.


The keynotes this year have given us some very important ‘retos’ or challenges moving forward. These will help guide our organization. Please consider becoming a member of DGH, and work in your own communities toward health and social justice. We will send out an email connecting every one from this assembly, please let us know if you would NOT like to be included. Please follow us on facebook and twitter, and join us next year in Atlanta, Georgia, August 4-6th for the 22nd Doctors for Global Health General Assembly! (5)


In closing:


‘Never be silent in the face of injustice. Never be silent in the face of human rights violations. Never be silent in the face of racism, or injustice in health care. I welcome you to the company of all those who refuse to bow down to pestilence and strive their utmost to be healers. This is the work we have ahead of us for the rest of our lives.’










Posted under