More harm than good? The questionable ethics of medical volunteering and international student placements

Trop Dis Travel Med Vaccines. 2017 Mar 6;3:5. doi: 10.1186/s40794-017-0048-y. eCollection 2017.


It has been argued that much of international medical volunteering is done for the wrong reasons, in that local people serve as a means to meet volunteers' needs, or for the right reasons but ignorance and ill-preparedness harm the intended beneficiaries, often without volunteers' grasp of the damage caused. The literature on ethical concerns in medical volunteering has grown tremendously over the last years highlighting the need for appropriate guidelines. These same concerns, however, and an appreciation of the reasons why current aid paradigms are flawed, can serve as indicators on how to change existing practices to ensure a better outcome for those who are in need of help. Such paradigm change envisages medical assistance in the spirit of solidarity, social justice, equality, and collegial collaboration.

Keywords: Developing countries; Development industry; Ethical concerns; Exploitation; Health care; Humanitarian aid; Poverty; Social justice.