Michelle Dorwart harbors no illusions about the medical trip that took her to Harare, the capital city of the southern African nation of Zimbabwe.
Home to roughly three million of Zimbabwe’s approximately 13 million citizens, Harare provides Dorwart with a front-line experience of the deep-rooted problems that confront medical services in her host nation. They are of such magnitude and complexity, she wrote on her blog, that high-flying dreams of ending AIDS transmission soon give way to the basic aim of keeping both mother and child alive during childbirth.
The numbers are sobering, the particular cases heartbreaking.
Zimbabwe government figures show that one mother dies for every 138 live births, compared to one in 3,570 in the United States, a chasm that Dorwart says reflects social, financial, political, historical, environmental and religious factors little understood by a developed world that too often believes it has the solution to all problems.
Dorwart is a 2007 College of Arts and Sciences graduate and a theology major whose pursuit of a medical career has taken her to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
“I think that Creighton’s Jesuit education, and learning about Jesuit values during such a formative part of my life, led me toward a career in family medicine as a way to care for the whole person and to focus on serving marginalized populations,” she said.
Dorwart maintains a blog at michelledorwart.blogspot.com, where she relates the ups and downs of bringing new life into the world in a corner of the world where survival is uncertain.
She said the developed world can help in ways small and large. Simply easing a shortage of medical tape and sterile gloves would help, she said.
But there are macro matters at work, too, she said, including a Zimbabwean government more concerned with retaining power than improving infrastructure and a developed world complacent about a changing climate.
“If I could highlight one thing that the developed world could do to improve the health of the developing world it would be to recognize and reduce the role we play in causing environmental destruction and climate change through over-consumption and continued dependence on fossil fuels,” she said.
“The people who will suffer most as a result of global environmental change are those who live in areas where resources are scarce and the political climate is unstable.”