“There can be no real growth without healthy populations. No sustainable development without tackling disease and malnutrition. No international security without assisting crisis-ridden countries. And no hope for the spread of freedom, democracy and human dignity unless we treat health as a basic human right”
- Gro Brundtland – Former Norwegian Prime Minister and Director of the World Health Organisation
Millions of people in the developing world live without access to health care. When combined with material poverty, lack of access to sanitation and the prevalence of disease, it is no wonder that developing countries, on average, have lower life expectancies and higher infant and maternal mortality rates. In addition, a lack of immunisation and education means that the incidence of malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases is much higher. The Millennium Development Goals feature a number of targets on health: they pledge, for example, to “reduce, by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate,” and “achieve universal access to reproductive health.” From the availability of primary care and basic corrective surgery to the provision of information on safe reproduction, the benefits of health care are enormous: good health has a significant impact on the happiness and economic security of individuals, while a healthier population can help a society to gain wealth and reduce poverty.
Some healthcare organisations are set up to provide patient care directly, and operate much like a normal hospital or surgery. In developing countries, medical care providers may be constrained by resources, training and technology, and often find themselves working in difficult, remote locations, but the work they do is invaluable for the local communities. In places where there are few other opportunities to get information about health, hospitals and travelling doctors also become the primary way in which people can learn about how to improve their health and protect their children.
There are other organisations, however, that focus purely on health education and campaigns. Instead of treating patients directly, they take a more preventative approach by seeking to educate the population at large about the steps they need to take to remain healthy. In addition, groups like this may distribute equipment such as mosquito nets or carry out screening for disease. Their main tools, though, are media campaigns and community outreach programmes, which may seek to educate their target group in general principles of good health or in a specific aspect of health and disease. The global spread of HIV/AIDS, for example, has made it imperative that young people in particular understand the importance of taking preventative measures to avoid contracting the disease, and therefore organisations have been formed across the world to deliver that message.
What our volunteers do
In the health sector, there is an obvious need for qualified medical professionals to donate their skills to communities in less fortunate countries. There is also, however, a need for those with management and logistics experience to make health organisations run more effectively, and good communicators to help convey messages which, in many cases, could save lives.