Addressing what makes kids sick

Published On 10/20/2016

by Lauren Mutrie, MD

Before I moved to Memphis three years ago, I cared for HIV-positive children in sub-Saharan Africa. My experience there gave me a first-hand panorama into the glaring effects of poverty.

While I was exposed to a different scale of poverty, I observed commonalities unique to poor communities all over the world. I saw how small public health interventions had the potential for enormous health impact for individuals, families, communities and entire populations.

I see my work at Le Bonheur as a way to bridge the worlds of clinical pediatrics and public health. In Memphis, we have a child poverty rate double the national rate. Our children struggle with not having enough nutritious food to eat, unsafe housing and neighborhood violence, addiction and limited access to mental health resources, broken families, illiteracy and untreated learning disabilities, and homelessness. Sick children who live in poverty all too often have complicated and traumatic social circumstances.

;auren mutrie

To help patients overcome the stigma of poverty and chronic illness, we must transform the conversation around health and healing. We must ask, what is it about where our patients live, play or go to school that leads them to a place of illness or instability?  Problems in non-medical areas of life have tremendous implications for overall success and health in childhood and young adulthood. Effective treatment requires a holistic, compassionate and interdisciplinary approach.

Last year we launched Memphis CHiLD, a medical legal partnership between Le Bonheur, the University of Memphis School of Law, Memphis Area Legal Services and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Memphis CHiLD is an innovative advocacy tool through which we aim to improve overall child health.  The advocacy capabilities we have as doctors, especially when coupled with lawyers, serve as preventative and curative medicine for our patients whose social determinants of health anchor them in poverty and illness.

Child poverty goes hand-in-hand with health disparity, and the degree of disparity regulates access to opportunity.  We see this phenomenon every day as physicians. As an interdisciplinary partnership, Memphis CHiLD has the unique ability to address the pathologies associated with poverty, to restore healing and to take on the challenge of eliminating health inequities in our community.

Lauren Mutrie, MD, MSC, is a general pediatrician with Le Bonheur Pediatrics, associate professor with The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, pediatric consultant to Memphis CHiLD and oversees global health and advocacy programs for pediatric resident physicians.