By Regan Hewitt
Dr. Newman, surgeon for Doctors Without Borders, spoke on Oct. 28 about global healthcare in light of the Ebola crisis.
How did you get involved with Doctors Without Borders [DWB]?
I got involved with them [after] the tsunami [the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that occurred on Dec. 26, 2004] in 2005. There was a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and at that time, Indonesia was in the midst of a civil war, and there was a lot of damage in Northern Indonesia, and Doctors Without Borders was going to go up and help people in Northern Indonesia. And the government of Indonesia told Doctors Without Borders that, ‘You can’t go unless part of our military goes with you,’ and Doctors Without Borders refused. And the government eventually acquiesced and allowed them to go, but I was impressed that the organization had very distinct principles.
What has been your most joyful experience with the group?
There’s that famous painting by Picasso, Guernica. That picture, Guernica, is similar to experiences I had in both Sri Lanka and in Syria. In Sri Lanka, these huge ambulance trucks would pull up and they would open the back doors and there’d be like, 12 or 15 people crowded into the ambulance, and it was like looking at Guernica. And then the positive experiences are when people that, normally, if you weren’t there, they would die, and [instead] they survived.
Do you think the American media is hyping up the Ebola epidemic?
Absolutely. And I think that not only have they hyped it up, but I think that in some respects, we lose sight of sort of the real tragedy of Ebola. And the real tragedy isn’t the four to six people in the U.S. that have been treated for Ebola — the real tragedy is the thousands of people in West Africa that have Ebola and that are dying from Ebola. And aside from the people that are suffering from Ebola in West Africa, I think that we’re losing sight of other humanitarian, … crucial issues in the world. I think South Sudan is one, I think Syria is one, Iraq, Congo, Central African Republic. I think there’s all these rather large, major humanitarian crises and I think that the American media is kind of overly focused on Ebola in the U.S.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.