Point of View -- By Thomas Davis

Oct. 22, 2008

Subscribe to Commodore Nation magazine / View Archived Issues

Editor's Note: Each month "Commodore Nation" will ask a varsity athlete to sound off on a point of personal interest. A junior on the cross country team, Davis is majoring in biomedical engineering. One of Davis' many goals is to improve health care in Mexico.

For nearly the first five years of my life, I was a Mexican, not a political citizen but a cultural citizen. While living in Chihuahua, I developed a fervent love for everything Mexican, but at the same time, my young eyes could not help but fixate on the generational poverty that saturates Mexican society.

Undoubtedly, poverty is a chronic social illness with a vast, intertwined root system. Despite poverty's burdensome complexity, Nobel laureate and Vanderbilt graduate Muhammad Yunus identifies the exorbitant cost of health care as the single greatest force that shackles the citizens of his native Bangladesh to poverty. Certainly, the situation in most of the world is not much different.

Fifteen years ago when I lived in Mexico, the lack of access to resources was the greatest obstacle to providing affordable and adequate health care. In my city of one million, there were no ventilators. If you were to break your leg playing soccer as a friend did, your family had to go to the store to buy the parts necessary for the surgical repair.

Apparently, not much has changed. When I asked a doctor whom I met while living in Aguascalientes this summer to name the greatest challenge to Mexican health care, he had a definitive answer: resources.

Fortunately, Muhammad Yunus's newest book Creating a World without Poverty precipitates a new form of business--a social business. As explained by Yunus, a social business can be defined in one of two ways. One model defines a social business as a non-loss, non-dividend business. The other model is a profit-maximizing business that is owned by the poor. In either case, the self-sustaining nature allows a social business to escape the charity dependence of most nonprofits. Instead, any profits are reinvested in order to expand the social reach of the business.

While Yunus's proposal likely will be an influential component in improving medical care, there is a systemic level of corruption that permeates Mexican politics, which effectively softens and often thwarts any attempt to increase access to medical resources. Unfortunately, this corruption is so prevalent in Mexican culture that corruption is opaquely factored into the cost of a product. This corruption exists in many forms, such as artificially inflated prices for originally donated medical supplies and resources that mysteriously disappear.

As a way to work around the endemic corruption, I will be returning to Aguascalientes next summer to work with the Mexican Red Cross. As a volunteer emergency medical technician, I plan to identify and implement protocol changes that can improve the quality of pre-hospital care. Unlike the often inefficient importation of donated goods, the putrid pockets of government will struggle to regulate the importation of ideas. At the same time, I hope to address opportunities for designing more affordable medical supplies using a social business model that can capitalize on Mexico's local infrastructure.

Like Yunus, I am committed to creating resilient solutions that can traverse the sharp roadblocks that too easily deflate the wheels of optimism. Even when this vehicle for creating a world without poverty will inevitably face a slowdown, I know I can count on the admirable and unending source of hope of my Mexican neighbors to get out and push their country towards more accessible and modern health care.



Proud Sponsors of Commodore Athletics