A baby gasps his last breath on a tattered blanket stained with blood. He lived for just one day. Born premature in a Ugandan village, his 15-year-old mother traveled eight hours to the hospital to save him. He never got the chance to grow up, but only the chance to grow cold before he was bundled and buried. His closed eyes will never see a sunrise, his little ears will never hear his mother sing, his small feet will never dance, his tiny hands will never catch a ball, and his mouth will never speak words that could change our world. His death seems senseless.
The baby boy died without a name. I knew him for only an afternoon, but years later I still think of him. I could not save him in the remote Ugandan community hospital, which lacked the basic resources required to keep a premature baby alive. I painted him so I will always remember him and so you will know of him. If he was born in America (or any high income country), I imagine he would be running around a park, laughing as he played in the grass with other children, while his mother watched and smiled. But he was born in some obscure village without electricity or running water. It may take a village to raise a child, but not if Death first takes the child from the village.
As I painted The Absent Multitude, I reflected on the massive healthcare gap that continues to exist between high and low income countries despite thousands of published papers describing data on childhood mortality. The voices advocating for an end to the global injustice of inequality are too often muffled by the public outcry to create barriers to “protect people.” In regards to healthcare, with millions of babies dying every year from preventable causes, walls should never stand that impede access to basic medical needs. We must shift our focus from creating healthcare barriers to building bridges that surmount the disparities that cause untold devastation to the precious babies in our world.
This baby’s brief story is synonymous to millions of unwritten stories about indigent, nameless newborns who die in our world each year. Who is the absent multitude? Those who needed help? Or those of us capable of helping?
Ryan Michael McAdams, MD
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health