My wife and I wish to express our
warmest and humblest thanks for honoring us with this eminent Ramon
Magsaysay Award. We hope we will be able to bring further distinction to
In Asia and the rest of the world, positive strides have been made in the
fields of medicine and science. We witness the magnificent feat of men
living in environments alien to us in yesteryears. It is commonplace for us
to hear of man conducting experiments in the far-reaching dimensions of
space and in the depths of our oceans. We have developed technology of such
sophistication that now it is possible to replace diseased body organs.
There appears to be no limit to making all our imaginings realities (given
enough of that precious commodity—time). But as we slowly lower our eyes
from the dazzling heights of man's achievements, our sight will fall on the
ugliest of scars of mankind's workmanship—poverty and disease. Statisticians
enjoy playing the numbers game with lives in our Asian villages. It throws
up the frequency of births, deaths and diseases, but hides the stark reality
of suffering and deprivation.
Optimum health is the right of every individual and we possess more than
enough knowledge to make this right a reality. Knowledge is the total
accumulation of all the efforts of mankind over the past decades. No single
profession or group can claim a monopoly on this market. It should be
available to all, but in the very name of protecting the people, this trust
of knowledge is withheld from them. Presently in Asia large sections of the
population are deprived of the benefits acquired from this common pool of
knowledge, which leads us to pose painful questions. What hinders the
available medical care from reaching these people? Is it the monetary cost
involved? If this is so, what causes the high cost? If this care is so far
removed from the common people, are we failing in our responsibility? We
must search into these questions objectively and try to answer them in a
dispassionate manner. We know that morbidity and mortality in rural areas
are closely related to basic health problems caused by inadequate food, a
polluted water supply, poor sanitation and man's inability to equalize
distribution. Today we commit the great crime of allowing malnourished
children and adults to succumb to diarrhea and tuberculosis, major killers.
Why should a mother lose her life due to tetanus or sepsis? We possess
enough knowledge and machinery to prevent such wastage of lives, and we can
be certain that there is no dearth of village people to help in this task.
So why do these tragedies continue? There appear to be certain cliques that
monopolize knowledge, technology and remedies that are vital to the very
survival of human life. If the common man is allowed access to these
resources, the predictions of a doomed future would rapidly change.
Poor, illiterate people are like rough diamonds hidden under dirt and stone.
Given the opportunity, they can reach their full potential— a potential as
great as is possible for you and me. Just because facilities of schools and
universities are inaccessible to them we are mistaken in labeling them
unintelligent. "Ignorant" is the word to use here as this denotes
deprivation of knowledge. The villagers are capable of learning and
utilizing skills for the betterment of life. All that is necessary on our
part is sharing our "trust of knowledge" with them. They have the potential
to be responsible, sensitive human beings, possessing the qualities for
self-reliance, and able to shed old customs and traditions that impede
forward development. We just need to exercise patience and care in working
Why are people still imprisoned in the shackles of bondage? They should be
able to decide who controls knowledge and how it should be utilized for the
positive progression of mankind. We must make available to them the means to
gain access to, and control over, their own health care. I must ask myself
if I am consciously or unconsciously involved in this obstruction and how I
can facilitate the services reaching those in most need. I believe, both as
a humanitarian and as a physician, that qualities of independence and
self-reliance should be encouraged and nurtured in regard to people's health
care, and to this end my wife and I are channeling our efforts.
At this point Arnold Toynbee's words echo through my mind: "The twentieth
century will be remembered chiefly, not as an age of political conflicts and
technical inventions, but as an age in which human society dared to think of
the health of the whole human race as a practical objective."