Arshia Wajid, MPH, MBA, is the founder of American Muslim Health Professionals, which on April 20th is co-hosting with the Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health a National Public Health Conference on eliminating health disparities. (More information on the conference is available here.) Ms. Wajid is the latest in our series of inspiring faith community advocates for healthcare participating in our Five Question Interview:
What do you consider the most important healthcare work that you do?
The most important healthcare work I do is embodied in the mission statement of American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP) which is to bring together and strengthen the impact of Muslim health professionals to improve the health and wellness of all Americans.
Prior to 2004, there was no platform for Muslim professionals working in the health sector to collaborate and share resources. I founded AMHP 15 years ago because I felt it was important to bridge that gap not only for the purpose of professional development but more importantly, to leverage our skill sets and collective expertise to champion public health initiatives for society. At the national level, we have three areas of focus: mental health, advocacy and professional development.
Every single person has a unique talent that they can use to give back to society and given the plethora of healthcare issues facing our country, it is important for health professionals to be civically engaged and at the forefront of addressing these issues.
What motivates you to do your work?
My faith motivates me to do the work I do. There are many teachings in Islam which encourage us to engage in social justice causes and take care of those who are less fortunate than ourselves. To serve others is one of the most beautiful ways to worship God and that is a guiding principle that I try to remind myself of when engaging in voluntary work.
There are so many causes that need our attention: poverty, homelessness, climate change, and the list goes on. Whether it is advocating on behalf of marginalized communities in our country or helping refugees afflicted from war, we all have the ability to contribute. It is not a choice but rather an obligation to help vulnerable communities. It is also a way to show gratitude for the countless blessings bestowed on us.
What are the biggest challenges you—or those you care for or work with—face?
It took several years of grassroots organizing to push our legislators and pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, the GOP in collaboration with pharmaceutical and insurance companies are bent on trying to repeal the ACA. Rather than focusing efforts on pushing for universal coverage, we have to utilize our time to prevent the repeal of ACA. The Trump Administration has been relentless in opposing key elements of ACA which protects coverage for young adults who are on their parent’s insurance, people with pre-existing conditions, and other cost control mechanisms. Every time we make progress in trying to improve access to care, it feels like we have to reshift efforts to salvage provisions enacted in ACA.
What do you think the U.S. healthcare system should look like?
The fact that we are one of the richest countries in the world and yet, there are millions that are still uninsured is unacceptable. The fact that we spend the most per capita per person and still rank below in terms of health outcomes when compared to other industrialized countries is unacceptable. The fact that more than a quarter of US adults struggle to pay their medical bills is unacceptable. The fact that drug prices are unaffordable for millions is unacceptable.
Our healthcare system should look like all other industrialized countries where there is universal health coverage. Access to affordable healthcare is a human right and not a privilege. The Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction of providing health coverage but there are millions that are still uninsured. We still have lot of work to do to advance access to quality and affordable health coverage for everyone in our country.
What role do you see people of faith and faith communities playing in making the needed changes?
There is a verse in the Holy Qur’an that if you save one life, it is as if you have saved all of humanity. All faiths have similar sayings where human beings are prompted to fight for social justice and help their fellow brethren. Providing access to affordable health coverage is a mandate for people of faith and one of the most important ways of preserving life. As Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. profoundly remarked, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Faith communities play a very critical role in ensuring that we work together in addressing the healthcare needs of refugees, minorities and underserved population, in eliminating health disparities, and in providing access to health insurance to those who may not be able to afford it.
AMHP is part of the Interfaith Healthcare Coalition and it was powerful to collaborate with faith partners in fighting the repeal against ACA. Faith leaders also have access to the pulpit which they can use to share important messages to their congregants about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, advocating on behalf of the underserved and fighting for a just healthcare system.
Faith and Healthcare Notes
- Caregivers Are Not Supported in U.S. Healthcare System. Dr. Aaron Carroll writing in the New York Times: “The efforts of caregivers are probably just as important to health as the drugs and procedures the medical system provides. Rides to the hospital are care. The time spent at home with those recuperating after procedures is care. Watching and monitoring and caring for the ill in their home is just as much care as doing the same in a hospital. We are willing to pay a fortune for the former, and almost nothing for the latter.”
- Ambulance Trips Are Expensive, and Usually “Out of Network” of Insurance. From Axios: “You may be sick of hearing me say this by now, but it's true: Health care is not a competitive market, and the more you need it, the less competitive it is. If you need an ambulance, you're in no position to be a smart shopper about ambulance rides. What you are, instead, is captive to Wall Street.”
- Action Opportunity. National Nurses United is a front-lines leader in the Medicare for All movement, and you can join their active campaign of events and outreach to lawmakers here https://medicare4all.org/