My uncle George was always good to me. He was a compact man of slight build with a calm voice that could rise to irresistible command in a heartbeat, much like my father's. Both he and my uncle Antwi looked like carbon copies of their little brother, the man who had ushered me into the world. When I debuted my first musical during my college study abroad semester in my homeland of Ghana, my uncle George led a contingent of family members on the two-hour bus trip from Accra to Cape Coast.
At the end of the show, he came up and embraced me. He looked me straight in the eye and told me how proud he was of me and that he believed I had a genuine gift and I would use it to bring honor to my family and to society.
Five years ago, Uncle George passed away. He had been struggling with a recurring bout of malaria, a disease that, contrary to popular understanding, is still the most devastating on the African continent. When I last saw him, he was a little grayer, a little slower, had lost some of the pep in his step. But when I boarded my flight back to the States, I had no idea I would not see my uncle again.
Malaria is not an incurable disease. I've had it three or four times in my life. It was endemic in the southeastern United States until the 1940s, when it was eradicated through the concerted efforts of state, local and federal officials.
The common misconception is that good medical care is not available in developing countries. That is, in fact, not the case. Good medical care is almost always available—but only for certain people. How often do you hear of foreign despots dying of curable disease? It is one of the greatest challenges of living in a so-called "Third World" nation that even when there is treatment available for an ailment, a person might not have access to it because they don't have the money or the right connections.
Imagine the sad state of affairs when people die in a country not for lack of the science to save them, but for lack of the will to do so if they are not in a position to pay.
You must know where I'm going with this by now. Too many Americans are left with "Third World" healthcare—care that is rationed according to means. But the right to care is not a luxury to be reserved for the privileged. And even those so ensnared in the ideal of rugged individualism that they would believe the survival of one is of no concern to the many must acknowledge that, by all accounts, the massive costs of servicing the world's most expensive healthcare system will ultimately bankrupt this nation.
And yet our current debate on healthcare is crowded by the shouts of those who decry "government takeover." In other areas, we've determined that free enterprise cannot be the sole solution to life and death issues. That's why we don't privatize our police and fire departments. It's why, in emergencies, we typically call out the National Guard and not "Corporation X."
Free enterprise is an amazing system for the pursuit of innovation and the encouragement of excellence. But if among our inalienable rights are those to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then the most fundamental responsibility of government "by the people" should be to enable the people to have those most basic rights. No right is more basic than the right to life, yet in a nation where the most vocal proponents of that right are the most immovable barriers to the reform of our broken healthcare system, the term itself has become more a slogan than a sincere belief.
If there is medicine to save me, the value of my life should not be measured according to the contents of my wallet. It is not only the right of government to guarantee this, it is its responsibility.
People from across the globe have come to this country in pursuit of better lives. That life should include better treatment than what we receive in the poorest parts of the world. The world's greatest democracy should have better than a Third World system of healthcare. Anything less would truly be un-American.
Derrick N. Ashong, or DNA as he is sometimes known, is a Ghana, West Africa, native and has dedicated his life to building bridges between the fields of business, media, technology, youth culture, pop culture and politics. Ashong has lectured on five continents on the use of media as a tool for human development, including recent talks at the London School of Economics, King's College (Cambridge), the Reconciliation Forum in Washington, D.C., the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and before UK Parliament on the subject of "The Obama Generation." He is a member of the internationally recognized Next Generation Leadership Forum and a participant in the Arts & Entertainment task force of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum. Ashong is a Harvard graduate and resides in Los Angeles where he is the leader of the band Soulfège.
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