Exhibit describes global illnesses

Seth Woerhle

Your mother has tuberculosis, and has been coughing for months. She went in for treatment 15 miles away, but couldn’t keep her job in a Ukrainian steel mill and cure her disease at the same time. Now you are getting the same cough, and you worry that you might have the same disease.

Don’t rush to call home just yet. Tuberculosis is a disease most Americans will never have to worry about. But Doctors Without Borders’ mobile exhibit aims to place you in a poor Ukrainian’s shoes for a few moments to understand what it’s like to be less fortunate.

On Monday, the doctors’ semi-trailer packed with information and portraits of sick citizens of developing nations stopped on campus.

Visitors step up to the “Wheel of Misfortune” and win a life-threatening disease. In addition to TB, illnesses like Malaria, Sleeping Sickness, HIV/AIDS and Kala Azar are doled out.

After traveling through the exhibit and learning about their affliction, visitors find themselves in a room decorated like a field hospital where a “doctor” tells them the bad news.

One “doctor” was Brigg Reilley, who has been a field worker with the organization for five years, living and working in places like Sri Lanka and the Ukraine.

Reilley explained that in the TB scenario, you have likely contracted a super strain of the disease resistant to most medicines.

“These are old drugs. They were developed 30, 40, 50 years ago, so it’s no surprise that they wouldn’t be working as well anymore,” Reilley said. “Tuberculosis, like any organism, has developed resistances over the years, and now we’re seeing the results of a total lack of research.”

Besides raising awareness, Doctors Without Borders wants to motivate the public to press drug companies and the government to work toward new drugs and treatments for these diseases.

“The other half of this is to put pressure on the pharmaceutical industry,” said field logician Cathy Diebel.

Drug companies see no profit in the diseases of developing nations, she said.

“What we’re trying to do is to get them to make that first step,” Diebel said.

The exhibit has been on the road since it started in New York in March, and will travel through 22 cities.

In addition to its displays and experts, the exhibit features a wall of ticking clocks with plaques featuring dismal facts like “every minute, five people die of AIDS” and “every four minutes four people die of TB.”

Jennifer Sauter, a University ophthalmology researcher, said the exhibit helped give her a better perspective on the plight of those who lack access to medical help.

“I think it’s good for people who live in the United States – who have access to everything and take it for granted – to see how it might be to be somebody else in one of these countries,” Sauter said.

Some medical students who visited the exhibit said the organization could gain more volunteer doctors if it helped with the massive debt students rack up in school.

“I think the number one thing that holds Americans back from doing this is the fact that you come out of med school with a lot of debt, and there’s not even a deferment option through Doctors Without Borders,” said medical student Ted Wissink. “So unless you’ve got someone paying your way through med school, you’re probably not going to be able to do it.”

Seth Woehrle welcomes comments at [email protected]