“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17
God cares about social justice. It’s something I don’t think I realised for a while, but looking back it’s crazy obvious; the Bible is full of examples of this and the more I realise it the more excited I get. In Deuteronomy (24:19-21), for thousands of years the Israelites were instructed to leave some of their harvest for the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners. Jesus spent so much of his time with people who were (and still are) alienated from society, including sex workers, homeless people and corrupt tax collectors. For a while I thought of Christianity as a nice, comfortable way to live, pretty happy with the knowledge God loves me and content to leave it at that. However, the reality is so different from that, and so much better. Jesus lived a radical, counter-cultural life advocating equality and social justice, and was ultimately killed (and rose again) so that we could be part of it too.
I believe that God really cares about inequality and marginalised groups in society, and over the past couple of years this is really where I’ve felt “called” to get more involved. Studying medicine at university, I’ve known that I wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t really have a clue about where to specialise or what I was actually passionate about. About a year and a half ago, while driving up to Glasgow from my house in Dumfries there was a piece on the radio about the refugee crisis – something I had never really engaged with before. At that point I felt so incredibly sad about the whole situation, I decided I needed to get involved and do something, and since then God’s been providing opportunities for me to learn more about health inequalities and the healthcare of marginalised groups (including asylum seekers and refugees).
Last year I was able to take a year out of medicine to do an intercalated degree specialising in Global Health. I didn’t really know much about it at the time, but as I started the course I realised that it was exactly what I had been looking for and outlined the perfect way to combine social justice and medicine. Global health is defined as “the area of study, research and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in health for all people worldwide”, and combines so many different disciplines including politics, sociology, medicine, law, and human rights. Through this course I got to learn more about inequality and how this affects health, and how health inequalities have such a negative impact on the most vulnerable in our societies. This graph from the book The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett (10/10 would recommend) shows how health and social problems increase in unequal societies.
There’s also lots of evidence to show that those from more deprived areas generally live shorter, less healthy lives suffering from more chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes than those from more affluent areas. Glasgow as a city (unfortunately) illustrates this really well. In the train map below each stop on the green line (Argyle line) travelling East represents a drop of 1.7 years in life expectancy, giving 14 years of difference in male life expectancy across the map, even though it only represents about 4 miles.
Through this course and being involved with Medsin (a global health society/charity), I’ve been able to learn more, meet great pals who also care loads about health inequalities and global health, and be involved in some amazing events including the Medsin National Conference – where we spent 3 days hearing from some really inspiring speakers working in the field of global health.
Health is one of the places that we really see the impact of injustice, inequality and poverty in our society. Scotland’s former Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Harry Burns said this: “As a doctor at the Royal, I never once wrote a death certificate saying the cause of death was living in a horrible house or unemployment. People die of molecular deaths, such as proteins coagulating in arteries and causing heart attacks and strokes. Yet we know that poor [social] conditions lead to poor health and premature deaths.”
Over the last couple of years I’ve gone on a journey from not having a clue about what to do with my degree once I graduate next year, to now understanding that God is providing great and exciting opportunities to try and reduce health inequalities and work towards social justice within medicine. The UN declaration of human rights states that every person has a right to the highest attainable standard of health, including access to water, adequate food, good housing and working conditions. Unfortunately this isn’t the case for many people, both in the UK and abroad. If our society doesn’t change, our society’s health probably won’t either. I think that God cares about people’s health and whether they’re happy or not, so it’s so important to try and make changes to improve things for the better!
1- This map came from a lecture I had, and the info about life expectancy comes from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health which does some really interesting research and has many good explanations for the Glasgow Effect.
Words by Beth Dorrans