09/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Global Model for Health Care

Imagine a world in which even the remotest inhabitants have access to good health care. That's the vision of Health for Humanity, an international, not-for-profit, Baha'i-inspired organization based in Wilmette, IL. Health for Humanity is founded upon the conviction that humankind constitutes one global family with a common heritage and a collective destiny. The central principles which guide Health for Humanity's mission are inspired by the teachings of the Baha'i Faith.

"Before we can make any progress to address the development challenges in our world, we have to first acknowledge that we are all members of one human family and that the welfare of each of us affects us all," says Dr. May Khadem, assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago ophthalmologist, lifelong Baha'i and founding director of Health for Humanity

Health for Humanity was conceived 17 years ago on January 19th, 1992. On that cold Chicago winter Sunday, about twenty physicians gathered together to make decisions about an initiative many had been discussing for several years. That original group was passionate, unified, and shared an incredibly inspiring vision of an organization that would create effective models for health development that successfully combined best practices with a firm ethical foundation based on universal human values. Their first project was initiated that year at the Albania University Eye Center. The project's goal was to reduce blindness in Albania by improving the capacity for modern eye services, with particular focus on cataract surgery and retina services.

Health for Humanity strives to build the capacity of local partners to improve the health of their populations, while providing opportunities for service for its volunteers. Health for Humanity members are from diverse ethnic, religious and professional backgrounds and membership is open to anyone interested in the Health for Humanity mission. "We were embarked on a different and unique pathway to improve the outcomes of health development by focusing not only on what we do, but how we do it. We might think of what we do as the breadth of our activities based on approaches guided by scientific evidence. How we do it has more to do with the depth of our strategies and the core values we employ. Seventeen years later there is a renewed dedication to explore the depth and learn more about and share the new evolving strategies based on ethics, core human values, and service, in addition to utilizing the best practices espoused by the World Health Organization and the community of non-governmental health development organizations" affirms Khadem.

Health for Humanity works through partnerships with local institutions to identify health problems and implement effective value based interventions through service-oriented leadership training. This unique blend of science and values is Health for Humanity's distinctive contribution to health development. Health for Humanity projects fall under two program areas: technical training and health systems enrichment. The technical training program offers surgical training, clinical training, lectures in various medical specialties, and sponsorship of medical fellowships. Health for Humanity's health systems enrichment program is meant to reinforce and build on the effects of the technical training program. As health care professionals are trained in advanced medical techniques, they acquire skills to facilitate knowledge dissemination, group discussion, and consensus building. Health for Humanity s Values-based Leadership curriculum is the cornerstone of this program and works to encourage the examination of leadership models that incorporate ethical frameworks as a means of improving technical capacity and patient care.

During the last year, Health for Humanity's medical volunteers instructed over 270 doctors and provided over 30 specialized surgical trainings in general cataract surgery, oculoplastics surgery and treatment, pediatric rehabilitation, general pediatrics, psychiatry, HIV/AIDS prevention, mental health issues, pediatric cardiology, and diabetes prevention. Health for Humanity also sponsored fellowships for two Mongolian physicians so that they may have the skills necessary to establish an eye bank and to offer the most modern glaucoma treatments. Additionally training was provided in the field of Values-Based Leadership for health care professionals. Health for Humanity's current projects include working with healthcare providers in Mongolia to help prevent avoidable blindness, in China to improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, and with hospitals in China and Mongolia to improve their continuing medical education programs.

Recently, after 17 years Dr. Khadem stepped down as its volunteer executive director. Her passion and commitment carved an illustrious history of successful international partnerships. While her contributions are considerable they can be perhaps best summed up by a quote from the head surgical nurse in ophthalmology, Vincenc Gjergji, whom Dr. Khadem worked with in Albania for 13 years. "I thank you that you gave us value. It helped us to appreciate ourselves... For me the moral leadership workshop was the most helpful. This was the first time that we had anything like this in our clinic... After that, I changed my style of communication with those under me. They saw a difference in me and they liked it. It changed them too. They work differently now. The way we organize our work changed completely... We never used to prepare the patients for surgery. We never said anything to them. Now we explain to the patients what kind of surgery they are having and for what reason. The patients feel much better and the nurses feel much better. We talk to patients now... We appreciate so much everything you did for us. You gave us a new vision of ourselves and it is only growing as we learn more..."

Health for Humanity envisions a world in which all members of the human family, even in the most remote regions, have the resources and educational opportunities to address the health challenges of their communities and is then able to shoulder the leadership for their own progress. These values, found in all cultures, nations, and faiths are what unite humanity into one family and constitute the essence of humanity's common heritage and future.

For more information on Health for Humanity on how to become a volunteer or to make a contribution visit

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D. is professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health; Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition; The Albert Schweitzer Golden Grand Medalist for International Contributions to Cancer Prevention; and author of over 200 scientific articles and 15 books on the causes and prevention of cancer, including the groundbreaking The Politics of Cancer (1979), and five books on cosmetics and personal care products, including Toxic Beauty (2009).