The right to live a healthy life is something that, in a perfect world, would be available to every individual. Unfortunately, our imperfect world requires some help, and that’s where volunteering projects in the medical field step in. With or without a medical degree, there are a variety of opportunities that a volunteer can participate in to help improve healthcare around the world.

Regions in South America, Africa, and Asia have the most widespread health concerns, while simultaneously lacking the technology, economic stability, scientific knowledge, and manpower to prevent the outbreak of disease or rectify existing issues. Fortunately, opportunities are varied enough to allow for people with all different levels of experience and know-how to help via medical volunteering abroad and volunteering in the healthcare sector.

HIV/AIDS Awareness

Although there are still millions of new HIV infections a year, UNAIDS has reported that in 2011 there were 1.7 million AIDS related deaths, significantly lower than 2005 which had had 2.3 millions AIDS related deaths. There have been drastic improvements in educating people on prevention as well as treatment, but there is still work to be done.

As a volunteer, you can fundraise for research and to support international programs, travel to infected areas and help out in hospitals, care for orphaned children, conduct awareness and prevention classes or provide help for those suffering from grief and loss. HIV/AIDS is one of the most harrowing threats to public health and is a noble cause to dedicate your time to.

Disabled Care

Schools, orphanages, hospitals, and homes also need volunteers to help with mentally and physically disabled children. In many communities, those with disabilities are treated with contempt and are often abandoned. Few rights and resources are offered to them.

As a volunteer, you can work to give them a voice and provide them with a safe place to call home. Responsibilities could include feeding, bathing, changing and exercising patients, or simply spending time with them. If volunteering with children, teaching and playing are great ways to be involved.

Hospital/Clinic Work

Health volunteering can include a variety of things. Those with a medical degree or healthcare experience can diagnose and treat patients, as well as prescribe medications. But there are also tons of ways non-medical volunteers can help in this setting. All hospitals and clinics need people to clean, prepare food, fill out paperwork, perform administrative duties, assist in nursing, or care for the children of patients.

Health Education

Many volunteers decide to spend their time focusing on prevention. You can conduct health education classes in schools, work places, hospitals, or any public forum. Many people in developing countries simply don’t know how to prevent themselves from getting sick, so instructing them on things like safe sex practices, healthy diets, and sanitation is incredibly important. You can provide insight to those who are confused about their disease while boosting their courage and morale.

Family Counseling/Support

The societal stigmas associated with many types of diseases and healthcare concerns leave patients feeling isolated from their families and unaware of what to do next. As a medical counselor volunteer, you can develop a relationship with patients and their families, easing the tensions and helping each side to understand what the other is going through.

For further information on volunteering in the healthcare field abroad -- and for staying healthy yourself -- the following are helpful resources to start your search:

Generally speaking, the health and safety of a country will vary widely from place to place -- however, while volunteering in the medical field, it's important to have proper training to keep yourself healthy and safe while helping others.

Prominent Region Threats
  • Africa: Malaria, yellow fever, typhoid cholera, Hepatitis A & B.
  • Asia: Pneumonia, cancer, diabetes, influenza.
  • South America: Diarrhea, malaria, respiratory infections. (Source: www.who.int)
  • The World: Cardiovascular disease, cancer, other chronic diseases, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and road traffic

Anyone choosing to do volunteer abroad, especially those who choose to work in an area with close patient contact, must be sure to get the proper vaccinations and precautionary medicines before traveling. It’s also a good idea to take a few preparatory classes on pertinent medical concerns in your area of choice.

Cultural sensitivity is also extremely important so gaining an understanding of the social dynamics and stigmas would ensure a volunteer having a big impact. However, the most important thing a volunteer can do is show acceptance and love no matter who you encounter.

Contributed by Mandi Schmitt

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