I imagine I was not alone in being deeply impacted by the video below – a speech by 91 year old Harry Smith at this year’s Labour Party Conference.
His recounting of a bleak time in our history not so long ago was heart wrenching, and his exhortation to protect the NHS, which remains one of the finest free-at-the-point-of-use health care systems in the world, deeply convincing.
Whatever your politics, you cannot fail to be moved by a man who has lived through so much and lost people so close to him in such a tragic way, all for want of access to basic health care. Thankfully the advent of antibiotics and the progress of vaccines have largely eradicated many of the problems of that day. But not everywhere.
I came across the speech whilst in the UK and shortly after Lord Michael Hastings spoke at our Special Event at the Reform Club earlier this month. If you haven’t heard Lord Hastings speak, I encourage you to google a few Youtube clips. He is a gifted orator, and as Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at KPMG, and a contributor to many Global forums on poverty alleviation, he knows the subject well.
Lord Hastings also talked about the NHS in his speech, reminding us of one of the fundamental reasons it was formed in the first place – to care for the sick, yes, but also to prevent the loss of working and school days to pain – working days that were crucial for the rebuilding of post-war Britain.
As Lord Hastings pointed out, it is often thought that education is the fundamental building block for development and poverty alleviation. But there is one which comes before – access to basic health care to treat and prevent disease and in particular PAIN. Chronic and acute pain are a major cause of a loss of productivity for workers, students and parents in developing countries and significantly hold back progress.
Which is where we at Bridge2Aid come in. Oral Disease is the most common globally, and when left untreated is devastating. As well as excruciating pain, which causes the loss of a similar number work days each year as malaria, the complications from it (which occur frequently) can cause severe swelling, massive infection, even death.
And so as the UN considers the alleviation of greater levels of poverty in the next set of targets which will replace the Millennium Development Goals next year, Harry Smith’s masterclass in speech writing and delivery is a timely reminder of what access to essential basic health services can achieve. Our hope is that greater attention will be paid to making access to the most basic dental treatment available, through the training of embedded medical personnel.