21 April 2017

The Case Against "Medical Tourism"

Support for Community Wellness and Collaboration 

Over the past 20+ years I have had 
the privilege of participating in various types of volunteer missions, mostly under the auspices of the United Methodist Volunteer-in-Mission programs.   I must admit in those early years of my volunteering, I was excited to use my nursing skills in order to experience a personal sense of gratification.  I wanted to minister to the "poor" without giving much attention to where I was going, who the "poor" were or what their self-identified needs were.  This type of volunteering offers the provider short-term self-satisfaction and may or may not provide meaningful help  to the targeted "poor".

Recently, "medical tourism" has grown exponentially in popularity.  Some travel agencies offer "medical mission" experiences for health professionals that combine sightseeing in developing countries with brief outpatient clinic time that is designed to satisfy the participants' altruistic dreams.

Today, the world is experiencing widespread malnutrition, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.  There are locations where malaria is an endemic fact of life.  To be effective, volunteers must identify those needs and respond.  Here are some simple guidelines for individuals and health professionals who are serious about responding to the health crises among the poor:

1.  Preparation for a "community health" team should include contact with a "vetted" site that has a local host who will receive the group.

2.   A team leader is needed who obtains information from the host regarding community's long-term health needs; things that help prevent disease and sustain health, i.e., clean water, sewage disposal, need for dependable water source, food security, health teaching/health promoter education, vector control sexual health education, etc.

3.   Long-term health maintenance or community health may not be only about the need for health professionals but often requires farming education, health promoter education and long-term/long distance collaboration,  advice on latrines, well placement, insect control, food preparation and storage, etc.

Many skill sets are needed and useful to promote long-term community health.  Volunteers can be in long-term partnership and collaboration with locals in target communities.  You may be one of those individuals.

For more information, contact the United Methodist Mission Volunteer Office at mv@umcmission.org.  United Methodist Volunteers in Mission sponsors a variety of mission opportunities.

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