Joel woke up one day and said to himself, “Today I will visit the doctor”. He set out to walk to the doctor’s surgery full of hope that the symptoms he had would not be serious.
“I’m afraid I have bad news for you”, said the doctor, “You probably only have another year to live. There is a new drug which would ease the suffering and probably give you at least 10 years more life”.
“What’s the problem then” said Joel, “Give me the new medicine and help me to survive”.
The doctor flatly refused, and Joel’s hopes were shattered in that moment. He walked home a disappointed man, wondering just how he was going to share the news with his family. As you can imagine, he had a very restless night but eventually fell into a deep sleep and had a dream.
In the dream, he went down to his usual drinking place and sat in a corner thinking about his problem. A man he had never seen before came and spoke to him and they chatted for a while and Joel explained his situation. “You mean the doctor actually refused to give you the drug you need” said the man, “This is absolutely preposterous”. The man explained that he was a freelance newspaper reporter and declared that he would take up the issue.
Before long, the newspapers began to report on the man’s plight. “DR NO!” screamed The Sun. “STRIKE HIM OFF!” thundered the Daily Mail. The Times article was equally hard-hitting but with a more muted headline, “Doctor refuses a drug which could save a man’s life.”
Questions were asked in Parliament. “Are you going to let the health system play God with a man’s life?” asked the leader of the opposition.
The public response was quite predictable. Ordinary people send their money to the newspapers who passed it on to Joel who was then able to go to another country and be prescribed the life-giving drug.
Joel woke up from his dream feeling excited. He gazed up at the wooden rafters of his little hut and gradually, reality broke through to his senses.
Joel lived, not in England, but in a tiny village in a remote area of Africa. His “doctor” was just a community health worker and the life-saving drug he had heard about was not available in that country except for the very wealthy few.
There would be no newspaper articles. No politicians would care about his plight, and this death would go unnoticed apart from his family and people in his village.
The reality is that there are very many thousand of “Joels”. In most of Africa, even elementary drugs are far too expensive or are simply not available.
- Is Joel less important than the citizen living in a developed country?
- Does he not agonise over the hopelessness of his situation as much as a Westerner?
- Does his family care less about him then we would if Joel was your father or mine?
- Does Joel’s village community care less about him than our neighbours would care about us?
We have to be careful how we answer these questions. We are in grave danger of a form of racism if somehow, Joel living “over there” matters less than residents of our own country.