Developing hand therapy skills in Bangladesh: experiences of Australian volunteers

J Hand Ther. 2014 Jan-Mar;27(1):30-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jht.2013.09.006. Epub 2013 Oct 1.


Introduction: Bangladesh is a developing country whose health system is highly dependent on project funding from foreign countries. Interplast Australia & New Zealand have supported volunteer hand therapists to provide training to local staff in the management of hand injuries and burns since 2006.

Objectives: We aimed to explore and describe the volunteers' own experience and provide recommendations for future therapy capacity building projects in developing countries.

Methods: This qualitative study involved nine volunteer therapists, who attended a focus group to discuss their experiences, including the key milestones, challenges, and progress achieved. The two authors analyzed transcripts independently and emergent themes were discussed and identified by consensus.

Results: Overall the experience was extremely positive and rewarding for volunteers. Key learnings and challenges encountered in this project were cultural differences in learning styles, the need to adapt our approach to 2 facilitate sustainable local solutions, attrition of skilled local staff, and concerns regarding volunteer health and safety. Recommendations for similar projects include allowing adequate time for in-country scoping and planning, coordination and pooling of resources, and the use of strategies that encourage the shift to confident local ownership of ongoing learning and skill development.

Conclusion: Volunteering in a health capacity building program in developing countries can be a challenging but immensely rewarding experience. Programs designed to meet the health demands in developing countries should emphasize adequate training of professionals in the use of transferable, sustainable and cost effective techniques. Time spent in the scoping and planning phase is crucial, as is coordination of efforts and pooling of resources.

Level of evidence: 2C.

Keywords: Capacity-building; Developing country; Therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Australia
  • Bangladesh
  • Burns / therapy
  • Culture
  • Developing Countries
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Hand Injuries / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Language
  • Occupational Therapy / education*
  • Physical Therapy Specialty / education*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Safety
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Teaching / methods
  • Time-to-Treatment
  • Volunteers*