The Stream

Medical volunteerism

The risks and benefits of non-professional health workers.

Global health volunteerism is a big business driven by trained professionals, aspiring doctors and do-gooders without any medical training. Researchers estimate volunteers from the United States alone account for roughly $1 billion worth of unpaid labour.  In sub-Saharan Africa, the World Health Organization says volunteers provide 40 percent of the health services in that region. There are rarely out of pocket expenses related to the care, so what is the cost to the patient? In many cases, volunteers lack proper training and fail to set up provisions for long-term or post-operative care. A survey by the Center for Medical Missions found one in five of its volunteer doctors had been sued over work they had done in the field. And almost all of the respondents thought they would be involved in negligent suits within the next five years. On Monday, at 19:30 GMT, we’ll examine the ethics of global health volunteerism and look at what some countries, including Kenya and Tanzania, are doing to protect their people.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Dr. Jessica Evert @jessevertmd
Executive Director, Child Family Health International

Daniel Motunga @d_mutonga
Health care professional

Magreth Thadei
Medical sociologist

Noelle Sullivan @ncsullivan
Assistant professor, Global Health Studies & Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University 

What do you think? Should untrained medical volunteers provide care to patients in the developing world? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.