I decided to look into the work of medical volunteers in crisis zones after a Tiny Spark listener contacted me. She is a surgeon who had worked in Haiti after the earthquake, and she was disturbed by what she’d seen there and sent me some photos.
I was drawn to the surgeon’s story because most medical volunteers are clearly well-intentioned. But there is growing consensus that the sector needs to be professionalized and that its volunteers need to be trained before they head to international crisis zones. Unfortunately, many volunteers who arrived in Haiti had not received that training and there were severe consequences for an untold number of patients.
During many months of reporting, I discovered that if volunteers had arrived in Haiti fully trained and equipped, many amputations could have been prevented. Patients could have been spared the trauma of undergoing surgeries and amputations without anesthesia if volunteers had simply known they needed to bring supplies with them. Many patients wound up with severe post-operative complications and infections because they had been treated with inappropriate surgical interventions by short-term volunteers.
I will be speaking on Huffington Post Live today at 5pm EST to talk about some of problems that remain about the way that international emergency medicine is led, structured and staffed. I will be joined on the panel by several others who have direct experience providing medical care in crisis zones. You may leave comments and questions on the site before the segment begins or contribute to the conversation while the segment is underway.
We have been hearing from several listeners about their experiences in Haiti and about their concerns about medical volunteers in crisis zones. I would welcome feedback from more of you.