Angelina Jolie Proves Medical Care Saves Lives -- If You Can Get It

Eric Bing, professor of global health at SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, writes about overcoming obstacles of distributing medical care in developing countries.

By Eric G. Bing and Marc J. Epstein

Angelina Jolie’s recent decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy has helped reduce her risk of getting breast cancer from 87% to 5%.  Her courage to speak openly about the treatment has raised awareness and may save many other women as well.   For her heroism, we should be grateful – and we should also look, as Ms. Jolie herself has, beyond America and the developed world.

“We cannot close ourselves off to information and ignore the fact that millions of people are out there suffering,” she has said. Few women have access to BRCA1 gene testing or advanced surgical care, and many women in developing countries don’t even have access to basic medical care, sanitation, or clean water and suffer deadly consequences as a result.

Every year, more than a quarter of a million women die during childbirth and almost 7 million children under five die as well.  Why?  Because, even though we have the medical solutions that people around the world need, we just can’t get it to them. They are dying not because we can’t solve a medical problem, but because we can’t solve a distribution problem. Saving these lives does not need to be costly, and it can be done now....

Eric G. Bing, MD, PhD, MBA is Senior Fellow and Director of Global Health at the George W. Bush Institute and Professor at Southern Methodist University.  Marc J. Epstein, PhD is Distinguished Research Professor of Management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.   Bing and Epstein are co-authors of Pharmacy on a Bicycle, a new book about saving lives by using proven business approaches to get medical care to those who need it most – including African women at risk for cervical and breast cancer, the main focus of the George W. Bush Institutes’ global health efforts.