Former Surgeon General of the Public Health Service Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders began her lecture last night with a rallying cry against the nation's poor system of health care.
Elders was appointed surgeon general in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton and became the first black woman to fill the position, although she had to resign after 15 months on the job amid controversy surrounding her advocacy of sexual health education in schools.
A small crowd gathered for the event, "The Politics of Health Care," which took place in Trayes Hall of the Douglass Campus Center.
"We do not have a health care system in the United States. We have a very expensive sick care system," Elders said. "The United States is the only industrialized country that does not offer universal access to health care. Our health care system, as it is, is not coherent, comprehensive or cost-effective."
Elders said that 47 million people in the United States are without health insurance, and it costs $100 billion to pay for them. A person without it who waits until they get sick to seek medical treatment is 25 percent more likely to die, she said.
Elders asked why such a wealthy nation is doing so poorly. She said the United States ranks number 46 out of 192 nations in terms of life expectancy but ranks number one in terms of high spending. The United States has spent $2.1 trillion on health care -- 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, she said.
"So you would think that we would have the best," she said. "We have the best doctors, nurses, hospitals. We do cutting edge research, and yet when it comes to how well we do on taking care of our people [we are behind]."
Elders said the government has realized this is a severe problem, but nothing has been done to fix it. Health care should be a human right, and there should not be such a wide disparity between black people and white people in terms of health care as there is now, she said.
"We've got to start demanding health care for all of our people and extend the length of healthy life," Elders said.
Comprehensive sexual health education programs focusing on safe sex have been cut in schools, she said.
"Abstinence-only teaching doesn't work," Elders said. "We should be educating young people on how to protect themselves. We can't keep sacrificing our youth on ideologies and mythologies that we know aren't working."
Elders said the government has cut family planning programs, which do more to reduce poverty than anything else.
"There is no question condoms will break, but I can assure you that the vows of abstinence break far more easily than a latex condom," she said.
Students who attended the event said they were excited that someone as esteemed as Elders had come to lecture at the University.
"Because I'm a pharmacy major, health care in general is interesting to me and I thought it would be interesting to hear what [Elders] had to say," said Krisoula Horiates, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy first-year student.
Nancy Sehgel, a School of Engineering senior, agreed.
"[Elders] is very accomplished, and it's not everyday you get to meet the surgeon general," Sehgel said.
© 2008 Daily Targum via U-WIRE