Voices of Youth

Voices of Youth: Ethics, Poverty and Health Care

By Plyfaa Suwanamalik-Murphy

In Mae Sot, a town adjacent to the Thai-Myanmar border, I hung behind my family, watching street vendors shouting to passersby of the goods they offered. Walking past a tourist agency’s stall, I saw a sign propped up on the ground with the words, “See The Long-Neck People!” I had heard of the Kayan people before (The Kayan hill tribe communities, often characterized by their women who wear brass neck rings, are a displaced ethnic minority who escaped Myanmar as a result of ethnic persecution), but didn’t know profits were being made off their culture. Conflicted and my head swirling with questions, I quickly hurried up to my parents.

Was it ethical to commercialize the Kayan culture? What about for the Thai government to reap the benefits? Did these ethnological expositions cater to Western ideals of superiority? 

It seems incredible in this rapidly changing, technologically connected global society, communities similar to the Kayan people are still being exploited through a single story. While they are safe from ethnic persecution, the Kayan community is kept in an image of primitiveness to cater to tourism. In the process, they have limited access to health care due to the requirement to stay within certain provinces. 

This narrative of the Kayan people appears to correlate to the atmosphere of the impoverished in the United States. Similar to the Thai government spending decades harnessing the resources of the Kayan community, here, millions are subjected to this country’s giant pharmaceutical and health insurance lobbies. 

As phrased on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s website, more than 30 million Americans do not have health insurance, and even with people who do, “costs are so high that medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States.”

For decades, the United States government has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars into our health care system. Still, despite this, our health outcomes are in shambles compared to the 37 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. Referencing the OECD data from 2017, for the United States, everything regarding health appears to be at an all-time low, from overspending on private insurance companies to low life expectancies. 

We need to adopt a single-payer health program. To combat the decades of infliction from private health insurance companies, we can reverse this negative cycle by guaranteeing health care for all. By doing so, the United States would finally prioritize the people over the interests of giant pharmaceutical and private health insurance companies. 



Plyfaa Suwanamalik-Murphy is a Sunset District native, a homeschooler in her senior year, and SF Youth Commissioner

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