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Is Compassion the Cure?

Okay, we admit it. Trying to promote a more compassionate approach to global health at first felt a bit… like a lava lamp, Birkenstock and tie-dye wearing kind of scene. But within minutes of speaking to Dr. David Addiss, who may just be the most compelling ambassador for compassionate public health, we were convinced.

In this episode, Common Thread’s Michael Coleman and Regina Madanguit sit down with Dr. David Addiss, the director of the Focus Area of Compassion and Ethics (FACE) at the Task Force for Global Public Health to discuss the importance of compassion in achieving the sector’s goals.


Here are four things we learned from our conversation with David:

Compassion has an ugly cousin
It’s called pity, and it is not to be confused with compassion or empathy. You can listen here to understand the difference between these three seemingly similar terms.

There’s an epidemiology to compassion
Like diseases, it doesn’t occur equally across time and space, it clusters. Public health experts are uniquely equipped to unpack the presence or absence of compassion using a scientific method.

Compassionate interventions accept that public health is neither value-neutral, nor apolitical
Being compassionate in our approach means being aware of our role in the political dynamic, and creating a process that is open to being challenged by the people who suffer the most. Sounds a lot like woke HCD, right? You can read more about this idea here.

Compassion extends not only to those that we serve, but also to ourselves
“Once we are happy that our own house is in order, that will reflect – or radiate out – into the way that we operate with partners.” – Paul Emerson, PhD, Director, International Trachoma Initiative

You can listen to the full interview here.

Articles referenced in the episode:

Recommended reading:

More from David

Music Credits

This episode was part of Issue 13 of our newsletter, The Stitch. To check out previous issues and to subscribe, click here.

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