In order to get a degree in biology from Franciscan you have to give a seminar on some topic in biology. The topic of the seminar changes each semester, but this semester’s topic was a big departure from previous semesters. Previously the seminar would be on diseases and epidemics, water life, and other expected topics. This semester, the topic was Catholic biologists—the men and women doing the work rather than the work itself. Essentially, choose a Catholic biologist, learn everything you can about them, and then give an approximately 40 minute presentation on the impact they had on the field of biology. Then, everyone in the class asks you a question about your topic as part of their participation grade—so you really need to know your stuff.
Personally, I didn’t know where to begin in choosing a biologist. I wanted it to be meaningful, and I wanted to actually like what I was talking about—I didn’t want it to be a chore. After some thinking, I was brought back to a book called Mountains Beyond Mountains. Mountains Beyond Mountains is about how a physician named Paul Farmer has put his faith in action by setting out to cure the world.
“Cure the world”? What does it mean? Farmer has set out to provide healthcare to the world’s most underserved people in the most under-resourced areas of the world—the people suffering in Africa and Haiti, certain pockets of Russia and South America, and even in certain areas within the United States. Paul fights for every human person to have access to basic needs: food, clean water, and the right to healthcare. Paul is one of the founders of Partners In Health and he, through this organization, has been able to reach countless individuals.
Paul really inspires me. The people he faces on a day-to-day basis in Africa are dying from diseases we already have treatments for like AIDS and tuberculosis. If you have these in the US, you’ll likely be okay. We have the drugs and the healthcare system that will allow you to survive this condition. These people, however, are not so lucky. They were born in a underdeveloped region of the world, and they are dying.
This is where the research we’re doing here at Franciscan University becomes so much more real.
The research I’m involved with at Franciscan is very closely related to Paul’s work. I am doing basic medicinal chemistry. The drug targets I am privileged to work on are potentially new tuberculosis drug therapies. The people dying daily in third world countries have strains of diseases like TB that have become resistant to the drugs we have today—new drugs are needed to fight these infections. While research has been done and is being done, there’s not enough. Why? The people who need these drugs are typically not in the United States—they are in areas of the world with very little money, and thus they cannot pay for them. Since they can’t pay for them, there is very little funding being put towards this research. It’s a sad reality, but it’s true. I am thankful that FIWH (Franciscan Institute for World Health) has provided me the opportunity to take a part in research that is going on, and this research has the potential to really make an impact.
My seminar on Paul Farmer was not really on new discoveries within biology. Instead, I treated it as an opportunity to not only share about Paul’s life and his radical application of biology in the modern and underserved world, but to also inform my fellow students of the reality of what is going on in the world. I wanted them to know. Once you know, you’re no longer ignorant. And once you’re no longer ignorant you can choose honestly between doing nothing or doing something to help.