Northwestern’s chapter of Partners In Health Engage hosted its first campus-wide event Friday in University Hall, featuring keynote speaker Valeria Macias.
Partners In Health Engage is a global health and social justice organization dedicated to providing high-quality health care for the physical, mental and emotional well-being of those in need. NU’s PIH chapter — founded last spring — is the first Illinois chapter.
Macias, executive director of the Mexican branch of PIH, touched on the inaccessibility of health systems in underserved communities, spoke about obstetric violence – actions by health workers that cause harm to someone who is pregnant or has given birth – and discussed social justice through health care during one hour performance.
“Social medicine is about thinking not just about disease, but about all the social harms to health,” Macias said.
As a medical student, Macias said she faced pressure to detach emotionally from her patients. Macias had to give up that ideal through her work as a clinician in Chiapas, Mexico, she said, rebuilding her entire medical education to ensure she provided fair care to patients.
Weinberg sophomore Evgeny Stolyarov, a PIH member, found the discussion about the doctor-patient relationship relevant.
“It was really interesting to hear how the reality on the ground and the things that are taught in medical school differ so much,” Stolyarov said. “You have doctors coming out who don’t necessarily approach health care with the idea that patients are facing systems of oppression.”
Macias also highlighted PIH’s Maternal and Child Health Program, which focuses on caring for women and their families in underserved communities and promoting the right to health, safety and autonomy.
The initiative will ensure that health care providers work closely with obstetric nurses and midwives to try to implement a dignified birth model, according to Macias.
She said the program is designed to combat obstetric violence, which includes overtreatment, forced sterilizations without consent and prejudice against the mother. These practices occur when doctors prioritize their own comfort over that of their patients, Macias added.
Macias reflects on the procedure of sterilizing mothers during childbirth in Mexico’s obstetrics department, noting that this is often done without the patients’ consent.
Weinberg sophomore Stacey Yoon, an organizer for NU’s PIH branch, said she was inspired to get involved with PIH during her first-year seminar with anthropology professor Adia Benton.
The course examined the inequitable way in which health care is distributed, perpetuating socioeconomic problems. Benton structured the class around the thoughts of PIH co-founder Paul Farmer and aimed to encapsulate PIH’s mission of engagement.
“I’ve always been interested in global health and justice, so I looked to join an (organization) that already existed, but they didn’t have one at the time,” Yoon said. “I really wanted to do this so I could go in head first.”
Friday’s event is the first of many this year. The organization is expected to raise funds for the Sierra Leone Maternal Center of Excellence and advocate for legal initiatives that improve access to community health workers.
Yoon said PIH is guided by a core philosophy centered around health care as a human right.
“Healthcare is a right,” Yoon said. “I must never deny myself, no matter who you are or where you are. This is something that we unequivocally stand for.”
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