So many of us can pick up the phone and make an appointment with our doctor when we have a cold or the flu. It's heartbreaking to realize that half the population on our planet can't afford medical care. In fact, more than three billion people worldwide live on less than $2.50 a day. To them, primary care and surgery are luxuries.
This is why volunteer surgeons are needed - to help men, women, and children going without desperately needed services. They are both physically and emotionally affected by conditions that could be treated if they had the resources to access to medical care.
Let's take a closer look at why surgical volunteers so important.
Volunteer Surgeons Are Saving Lives
More than one million children are born with congenital heart disease (CHD) every year. In fact, it is the number one birth defect worldwide. Surgery can correct most heart defects. Children who live in developing countries don't always have access to specialists or life-saving procedures.
It's frightening to consider long-term implications. Children born with CHD are 12 times more likely to die in their first year than children who don't, or who receive surgical intervention.
Medical volunteers who take part in global health programs are able to bridge that surgical service gap. They provide life-saving operations to people who can't afford it or simply do not have access.
By 2030, most global health issues will stem from chronic diseases like hernias or cancer.
Children and adults are affected physically and emotionally from diseases and physical defects that can be treated with surgery. For example, a cleft palate can cause severe malnourishment. Patients are often unable to eat or drink easily. This birth defect can also cause speech problems if not treated early.
People who have suffered severe burns may have physical scars and deformities that keep them from walking, talking, or working. Emotional scars can be as damaging. Children are especially affected, as they may be ridiculed or ostracized.
Volunteer surgeons provide the treatment and education to people who might otherwise live their entire lives alone, afraid, and in pain.
Benefits of Volunteering
Medical mission trips benefit both the people who volunteer their time, as well as the people they serve. Some medical volunteers return home feeling as though they were transformed as much as the people they treated.
Service to Others
Global health studies have shown medical volunteers cite the value of giving back to needy communities as the primary benefit of their work.
Volunteers find meaning in leaving the comfort of home behind to help people who need them the most. In treating a child with dental issues, a volunteer may be present to witness their first smile. Another volunteer may operate on a man's damaged leg and allow him to work again and provide for his family.
Medical volunteers also find ways to get life-saving medications to remote areas where clinics are hundreds of miles apart. Delivery routes can also be disrupted, keeping medicine from reaching people who desperately need it.
Professional Education and Training
Surgical volunteers are able to study an unfamiliar health care system in ways they never could through words on a page in a medical text. In areas where resources are scarce, medical facilities may only have one doctor. Volunteers are able to provide onsite training and increase the hospital's bandwidth for providing treatment.
Medical volunteers often work under primitive conditions. They don't have the equipment and diagnostic tools they have access to in their home country.
They learn to make do with what they have to provide care for illnesses and diseases that would be easily treated in a modern medical clinic. In one study, 43 percent of surgical volunteers said a lack of essential equipment and resources was their biggest challenge.
Poor hygiene can cause extensive damage in developing communities and have far-reaching effects. For example, in Cambodia, diarrhea accounts for 20 percent of deaths in children under the age of five. It kills 10,000 people every year.
150,000 children under the age of five die in Indonesia every year from diseases linked to polluted water and poor hygiene.
Many of these deaths could be preventable with better sanitation and hygiene practices. Medical volunteers often work with local leaders to educate people about things people in modern cities take for granted. For example, handwashing doesn't fall under the definition of surgical treatment, but doctors who provide this information are saving lives.
Surgical volunteers also have an opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture in ways they never could as tourists. They learn to communicate with their patients despite language barriers and cultural differences.
When their volunteer work is over, they return home better equipped to help patients from different communities or countries who need treatment.
Ways to Support Surgical Volunteers
Most medical volunteers receive little to no compensation for their work. The organizations that coordinate their trips abroad rely solely on donations.
If you aren't able to serve as a volunteer, you can still contribute to the work by providing financial help. Most organizations provide ways to donate right on their websites.
You might also consider giving a more permanent gift to the charity of your choice. A legacy gift will allow you to continue your support for the organization long after you're gone. You can set that up in a couple of ways.
You can create a charitable trust. The trust administrator will make donations to the charity you choose after you're gone. You might also list the nonprofit organization as a beneficiary of the funds in your IRA or other retirement accounts.
Other Ways to Help
Even if you're not a surgeon, you can still have a significant impact on needy communities. You might consider volunteering with a program focused on disease prevention.
These programs provide education and resources. Volunteers can address issues like water filtration and sanitation in developing countries.
We invite you to read more about our work at Esperança and contact us for information about opportunities for volunteer surgeons.