Giving and Health
Americans have always participated in the world beyond our borders through philanthropy, and nowhere are the ties stronger than in giving for health and medicine. Diseases, treatments and cures, and resources cross borders, and Americans have long approached medical philanthropy as members of an international community. These connections shape developments both at home and abroad.
Starting in 1780s, leading Americans, including many doctors, worked through charities known as humane societies to promote the rescue and resuscitation of drowning victims.
The societies collaborated closely with foreign humane societies in recognition that in a maritime world, saving lives on the water was a common cause.
In the early to mid-1900s, increasingly severe polio outbreaks in the United States alarmed many. A vaccine discovered in 1955 and widespread vaccination programs eliminated the disease in this country in 1979.
Concerned about Chinese Americans’ access to health care, activists in the 1970s organized health fairs. Their efforts grew into a community health center supported by federal funds and private philanthropy. Such health centers have roots in a South African health clinic.
The Estée Lauder Companies used the power of a global brand to launch a pink ribbon campaign to raise awareness about breast cancer. Through purchases at makeup counters, consumers support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Aiming to cure breast cancer worldwide, the foundation funds researchers in countries around the world.
Since the 1800s, doctors and other Americans have served on medical missions within the United States and around the world.
Members of a New York-based medical team in Liberia taught skills, such as sewing, to their women patients. The program intended to help women who might need to support themselves. One of their patients made this cap.
Medical philanthropy programs can extend American power abroad, but the people they serve directly shape those programs.
Soft Power Health is working in Uganda to prevent malaria, which is typically spread by mosquito bites, with mosquito nets. Ugandans noted that nets were discarded if they appeared dirty, so Soft Power made a colorful net with intricate patterns that was less likely to show dirt.
American medical philanthropy abroad affects medical education back home.
After serving on international disaster relief missions, psychiatrist Craig Katz recognized a need to enhance teaching about mental health issues in a global context. He and his colleague Jan Schuetz-Mueller commissioned this painting for their medical textbook. They asked the painter to depict a man with clinical depression in a community that has endured a typhoon and civil war.