Westmont Magazine A Healthy View of Quarantine
As a medical student in the world’s first program in international health and population-based medicine, Geoff Ankeney ’97 is on the forefront of world health policy. But his cutting-edge studies at Columbia and Ben Gurion University in Israel have led him to investigate the past.
Geoff traveled to Molokai, a rural Hawaiian island, to research the Kalaupapa Community, home to 41 exiled lepers.
“Although I went to the island to learn more about leprosy first-hand, my primary goal was to look further into the politically charged issue of medical quarantines,” he explains. “Our world today faces the very real possibility of bioterror attack, such as smallpox. Further, in the Third World, leprosy is still very real and quarantines are still implemented.”
After interviewing the Kalaupapa people, Ankeney feels strongly that public health measures should be based on sound medical science and respect for human rights. The worst parts of the Kalaupapa quarantine resulted from superstition, rumor and outright ignorance. “It’s outrageous that the quarantine policy evolved under such influences,” Geoff says. Most now agree that mistakes and violation of rights occurred in implementing it.
“During my interviews, I posed the question, ‘If smallpox broke out today and isolation was the recommended treatment, what advice would you give?’ The medical staff and people afflicted agreed that isolation should be used only if all other viable options had been exhausted.”
The community Ankeney found had endured enormous hardships, but it had also been transformed by the love of Jesus. The lepers finally found relief from a man who was clearly under the influence of Christ. The spiritual changes made in the community led to physical and political changes as well.
“Many Christian thinkers argue that today’s notions of human rights — and the infinite worth of the individual — find their roots in Christian theology,” Geoff says. “I agree. Seeing that community made me even more sure that I want to play some role in transforming a life — or a community — in my lifetime, although I often wonder if I will have the courage.”
Geoff credits Westmont with pushing him to become the person he is today. Dr. Winter influenced him tremendously and advised him to enroll in the Columbia and Ben-Gurion program, “a million miles away in terror-torn Israel.” He also found that his single-frame childhood view of Christianity was “inadequate for effectively communicating with a politically and religiously nuanced world. At Westmont, I lost the fear of re-evaluating the foundations of my faith and the fear of losing my faith in the face of different ideas, cultures and peoples.”
Geoff and his wife, Christina Thomas Ankeney ’96, and their two children live in Beer Sheva, Israel, an area not much afflicted by terrorism. He would like to work in medical missions and dreams of being involved in the political forces that determine aid and health policy overseas.
“I’m learning medicine within a totally different culture, with entirely different values, holidays, political systems, and challenges,” he notes. “I can’t think of better missionary training.”