Are Short-Term Medical Missions Useful?
By Rebecca Lim | Health & Medicine
June 1, 2012
A University of Sydney study questions usefulness of medical missions and calls for improved transparency, implementation, and policymaking.
AsianScientist (Jun. 1, 2012) – A review recently published in the BMC Health Services Research journal examines short-term medical missions to lower and middle income countries over a 25-year period.
According to lead-author Dr. Alexandra Martiniuk from the Sydney Medical School and its affiliated George Institute for Global Health, this is the first review of its kind.
The study reviewed 230 accounts of short-term medical missions to low and middle income countries over a 25-year period (1985 to 2009). Medical missions were defined as short trips of one day to two years by a healthcare professional, typically from a high income country, to a developing country to provide direct medical care.
This study found that the United States of America, Canada and Australia represent the top three countries sending medical missions to developing countries. Papua New Guinea was the most popular destination, receiving 28 percent of missions. This was followed by the Solomon Islands, receiving 17 percent of missions. Medical aid to these areas focussed on cleft lip and palate deformities, oral and dental health and vaginal fistulas.
The review highlighted several shortcomings of such medical missions.
“A major concern was the quality and effectiveness of the medical care provided by foreign doctors unfamiliar with local health needs, local culture and the strengths and limitations of the healthcare system in which they must leave their patients for follow up care,” Martiniuk said.
The study also notes the considerable costs involved in financing medical missions such as airfares, accommodation, vaccinations, visa costs, customs fees for medicines and medical equipment, and questions if money would be better spent donated directly to health care facilities in the destination country.
“This new research also highlights the ethical dilemma of the importance of responding to the needs of individual patients, so often the focus of these types of missions, versus addressing the health needs of the community as a whole,” said Martiniuk.
“Considering their popularity and growth, there is a need to harness the positive power of these medical missions and to reduce their weaknesses. This can be done by increasing true partnership with people in developing countries and mentorship over the long term to help local people increase their own skills to reduce the need for medical missions.”
The article can be found at: Martiniuk ALC et al. (2012) Brain Gains: a literature review of medical missions to low and middle-income countries.
Source: University of Sydney.
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