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Doctor without borders describes experience in Chad

Published: November 14, 2008
Section: Front Page


Dr. Marc Levin ’94, speaks to students about treating patients in Africa. Dr. Levin graduated cum laude with a B.A. in history and has worked with the Beth Israel Residency in Urban Family Practice, in New York City, and in Darfur with the Doctors Without Borders.<br /><br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

Dr. Marc Levin ’94, speaks to students about treating patients in Africa. Dr. Levin graduated cum laude with a B.A. in history and has worked with the Beth Israel Residency in Urban Family Practice, in New York City, and in Darfur with the Doctors Without Borders.

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

What would it feel like to serve as the only doctor for 30,000 refugees? To be confined within one city block for months? To live in total disconnect from the rest of the world?

Dr. Marc Levin ’94 recounted his humanitarian work with Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) through a select presentation of photographs depicting his experiences in Chad.

Dr. Levin attended medical school at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, and graduated in 1998. He currently holds faculty positions in the Department of Family and Social Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and in the Beth Israel Residency in Urban Family Practice in New York City.

Before getting into current issues in global health and discussing his journey with MSF, Levin started his presentation by offering some career and life advice to the audience of undergraduates.

“Success comes by doing what you love,” said Levin. He demonstrated throughout his speech that he loved to help the underserved.

Levin addressed the current issues in global health including the politics of food, the politics of health, gender-based violence, mental health, and maternal mortality, among others. He gave a brief illustration of his life at Brandeis accompanied by photographs, and explained why he wanted to work with MSF.

“I’m very passionate about underserved health care” he started. “I’m really interested in cross-cultural medicine and I also really wanted to focus on patients. Doctors have to worry about costs and lawsuits…I just wanted to help the patients.”

Levin then showed the audience photos of his experiences in working in Chad, Dogdore. He opened the audience’s eyes, picture by picture, to the severe diseases and conditions of the underserved communities in Chad. He spoke of his experiences with increasingly graphic pictures of malnourished children to babies with malaria.

One audience member asked if Levin felt guilty about having better living conditions than almost everyone else in Chad.

Dr. Marc Levin ‘94 offered practical advise to students about their future careers in a presentation about his experiences with Doctors Without Borders. <br /><br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

Dr. Marc Levin ‘94 offered practical advise to students about their future careers in a presentation about his experiences with Doctors Without Borders.

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

“Of course,” replied Levin. “However, one of the most stressful things was living within a one city block due to safety reasons.” Levin explained that he actually felt most guilty when Chad’s government forced the MSF team to leave when so many people still needed treatment.

Another member from the audience inquired whether Levin became desensitized to the traumatic circumstances, after witnessing them every day.

“I guess so,” said Levin. He realized he had become much more efficient in treating cases of malnourishment and had adjusted to the shock value of some diseases.

He admitted, though, that he “never got used to dying children.”

The most devastating moment for the audience came when he demonstrated with an MSF bracelet just how tiny a severely malnourished child’s wrist is—less than 110mm.

Although Levin’s presentation contained many disheartening recollections, he also highlighted what went right in his campaign in Chad.

During their time, he and the MSF team helped to noticeably reduce the amount of cases of malnourishment with a product called “Plumpy Nut”.

He also advertised that MSF maintained its status as an independent organization capable of responding to crises as an autonomous humanitarian group by only accepting funding from private sources, not governments.

Levin ended the presentation with an anecdote of his journey to Paris en route to Niger, where he stuck in Paris because the government of Niger would not accept their help, and denied them visas.

Dr. Levin has been interviewed by ABC News about his experience in Niger and has been offered a job by Physicians for Human Rights, to document health-related human rights abuses in Africa in order to promote international policy change.

He hopes to keep working with MSF and to keep serving underserved communities.