Are Short-term Medical Missions Effective?
May 1st, 2011 by INMED
“In Haiti over eight days we saw 900 patients, treating infections and diarrhea. The people are desperately poor and were so very grateful for the medical care.” Anna, a family physician, spoke with enthusiasm. Then her voice turned somber. “But people also came to us with diabetes, asthma, and convulsions. We gave them a small supply of meds, but they can never afford ongoing treatment. What will happen to them?”
Anna’s frustration is shared by thousands of healthcare professionals who engage in short-term medical missions (STMM) each year. Their altruistic motives are often tempered by the reality of daunting questions. In fact Controversies In Short Term Medical Missions is one of the most often requested breakout sessions for this May’s Exploring Medical Missions Conference.
We would like to solicit your thoughts about the most common dilemmas facing those engaged in STMM. Next month we’ll share some of your opinions with the 46,000 people who receive this newsletter.
Regarding Anna’s dilemma above, how would you as a STMM participant respond to the need for providing continuity of care for low-income people with chronic illnesses?
“Our team worked in Honduras for a week focusing on health of school children connected with a parish,” explained Rachel, a pediatrics nurse. “Parasites penetrate the kids feet, and they are all are infected. We administered de-worming medication to the children. But then they walk home through the open sewage, where they’ll surely become re-infected.”
Consider Rachel’s situation. How would you in the context of STMM address prevention of common infections, malnutrition, or injuries?
“Our team traveled to the northeastern region of South Africa, where almost every other person is HIV positive.” Stanley, a public health specialist, expressed high hopes for their two-week journey. “I designed a presentation about sexual abstinence and condom use, and I gave it to several church groups. They all listened politely enough. But later, an elder quietly explained to me that males are expected and instructed to initiate sexual activity before even reaching their teen years. How can I be an effective educator when I know almost nothing about sexuality in their society?”
Think about Stanley’s situation. How would you recommend STMM become more culturally relevant to the particular views and needs of the communities we wish to serve?
Thank you for sharing your insights! And please join us at the Exploring Medical Missions Conference as we together investigate how to make STMM more culturally relevant and effective over the long term.