The Right to Heal


Dr Jaymie Ang Henry

“The fast food industry solved problems of global planning, global logistics – if they can, why can’t we? Why don’tRead more →




Dr Jaymie Ang Henry

“The fast food industry solved problems of global planning, global logistics – if they can, why can’t we? Why don’t we?”

Jaymie is co-founder and Executive Board member at the International Collaboration for Essential Surgery (ICES). She is the producer and director of “The Right to Heal,” a global surgery film. She is a lecturer in global health at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Why is safe surgery essential for women’s health?

Childbirth is an all or nothing phenomenon. When you have your baby it’s happening right now, and 15-20% of the time it is likely to involve a complication requiring surgery to save the mother and baby’s life. We know exactly what to do in these situations, we know the step-by-step process. But it’s as if people are saying: “ok – it depends where you live.”

This is life we’re talking about, a process with us since the dawn of humanity. The fact that there are so many women who are marginalized because they don’t have access to safe surgery feels like a failure of our civilization, a failure to bring this technology to half the population of the world.

You’re a surgeon, but you’ve made a documentary, The Right To Heal, about the need for access to safe surgery. Why the change in medium?

I grew up in the Philippines, and have first-hand experience of lack of access to healthcare. But working in ‘global surgery’ felt increasingly like an idealistic, academic experience. We were looking at it through a second-hand lens.

I started traveling, and meeting people, talking about their experience of not having access to something so vital. And I thought the gap was really just about letting people know. We become complacent knowing everything for us is working well. But how can you be a human being and stand by, not do something about it?

We have to let people know, and trust in their humanity and compassion to really want to do something about this.

On an individual level? A societal level?

There’s a fistula surgeon, a woman from Sri Lanka who went to Tanzania eight years ago to train, and couldn’t leave. She saw the need and said, how can I leave when I can do so much? People have been pushing quietly on their own, but it also needs to be done bigger.

Imagine how much more we can do if we worked together on an international level. If we’re able to reach government and policy makers, get people who hold the purse strings to say absolutely, this is something that needs to happen.

This is not something that can be solved by individuals, but by a community.

There have been decades of talk about a push for global surgery. Do you think things are actually changing?

Well I feel like our generation is becoming increasingly global. There’s this huge opportunity with technology – through social media, the internet – to cross those huge divides. We care about women in India, we care about women in the Philippines more than we used to.

A problem like obstetric fistula, which is really one of those horrible, medieval conditions that should have been gone a long time ago – it has been solved a million times over by other industries. The fast food industry solved problems of global planning, global logistics – if they can, why can’t we? Why don’t we?

We really have to be very clear in our message: we cannot compromise on this. It’s something that we can’t shortchange.



“It’s very complicated to walk away from people. You have to wait for them to walk away first.”

Priscilla is a student in Kenya. She recently underwent fistula repair surgery to correct the damage done by four days of obstructed labour, nine months after she was raped at age 15. 

Priscilla shared her story in The Right To Heal, a documentary examining the personal cost of lack of safe surgical care worldwide. It’s hard to look away from her animated face, and her devastating, statistically ordinary story.

The Right To Heal director and surgeon Jaymie Henry spoke about getting to know Priscilla, and the impact of her story.

What was Priscilla like when you first met her?

Just like in the video! She was so vigorous and joyful and passionate.

Did it change the way you had been thinking about global surgery?

What she suffered was completely inhumane. She was marginalized, cast aside by family, friends, because she didn’t have access to something as simple as surgery for her baby.

It brought that home to me – how we’ve relegated her to someone who can’t even function in society, who didn’t have opportunities.

What happened after the surgery?

It was life-saving; it just completely turned her around. She thought she was dead. Now she’s a vibrant young woman who wants to help other people. She wants to be a nurse, to give back to society.

What next?

Imagine that simple procedure, and it alters the course of her life. It’s profound. For me, there’s a sense of purpose. There are so many Priscillas in the world who can benefit from something as simple as this.