Health hazards and medical treatment of volunteers aged 18-30 years working in international social projects of non-governmental organizations (NGO)

Travel Med Infect Dis. Jul-Aug 2014;12(4):385-95. doi: 10.1016/j.tmaid.2013.11.004. Epub 2013 Nov 20.


The specific health risk profile and diversity of treatments sought by young volunteers participating in international social projects should differ from those of their older colleagues. In the absence of any data to identify whether this was correct, a retrospective analysis was performed using a standardized questionnaire. Questions included what diseases occurred, and details of the frequency and types of treatment sought during their stay - (e.g. self-treatment, medical/dental intervention, or local healer). The 153 participants were aged 18-30 years and worked in a non-governmental organization for >6 months. The participants were: 53% female, mean age 20 years, and mean duration of stay was 11.2 months. Their NGO placement abroad was in Latin America 65.4%, 14.4% in Africa, and 9.8% in Asia. 83% of the young volunteers had received some advice regarding travel medicine before their departure. However, they suffered from more injuries compared to private travellers, and febrile infections were more common when compared to older studies. 21.2% suffered from dental problems and 50% of them sought medical treatment. This study highlights a previously unreported higher risk profile of specific health problems occurring in young NGO volunteers, including some potentially life-threatening diagnoses that differed from their older colleagues and normal travellers. It is recommended that young volunteers should receive age specific, comprehensive pre-departure training in health and safety, first aid, and management of common health problems. A medical check-up upon returning home should be mandatory. The provision of a basic first aid kit to each volunteer before departure is also recommended.

Keywords: First aid training; Medical self-treatment; Non-governmental organizations (NGO); Social projects; risk profile.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Diarrhea
  • Female
  • Headache
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • International Agencies / organization & administration*
  • Malaria
  • Male
  • Sunburn
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Travel*
  • Volunteers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Wounds and Injuries
  • Young Adult