There is a critical shortage of appropriately trained health care providers in resource-scarce countries across the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the global needs-based shortage of health workers in 2013 is nearly 17.4 million.
This shortage has a direct impact on the delivery of care – particularly in the area of women’s health.
An appropriately trained health workforce is necessary to address these health challenges and save lives.
“The priority everywhere is to decrease maternal and neonatal mortality,” said Meg Autry, MD, director of the Health Volunteers Overseas obstetrics and gynecology project in Kampala, Uganda.
In 2016, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology partnered with Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO), a US-based nonprofit organization that has spent more than 31 years working with partners in resource-scarce countries to provide teaching, training and professional opportunity to health workers. ACOG sponsors HVO’s newest program in obstetrics and gynecology.
“I was the point person for the ACOG-HVO collaboration with Makerere University and Mulago Hospital,” noted Dr. Autry. “From my education standpoint, I wanted to collaborate and try to help physicians and teachers in Uganda improve their health care provision to women.”
In 2017, HVO began recruiting volunteers for a new project at Makerere University and Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda.
“In Uganda, our collaboration brings education throughout the continuum; medical students, junior house officers, senior house officers, midwifery students, midwives and faculty,” explained Dr. Autry. “We do talks, surgical education, including laparoscopy… as well as evidence-based obstetric care.”
Dr. Autry helped to launch the HVO project and currently serves as project director, vetting and preparing volunteers for the project. She has been visiting Makerere University and Mulago hospital for more than a decade, facilitating training and education opportunities for the staff and students of the university and hospital.
“We have published together, and I have helped mentor graduates and I consider them good friends. We communicate on WhatsApp constantly for clinical and research questions,” explained Dr. Autry.
Dr. Autry also noted the benefit to her own professional development and benefits of volunteering to work alongside colleagues in Uganda: “… it is an incredible experience to work beside really knowledgeable and dedicated doctors who are limited only by the resources available to them.”
Volunteers to HVO’s project in Uganda serve a minimum of one week, giving lectures, providing surgical training, and mentoring local health workers while on-site.
Dr. Autry added that the Uganda project seeks volunteers who specialize in varying topics: “There’s a place for everyone; you could do obstetrics, you could do gynecology, you could do emergency gynecology… In Uganda, you can really help in the areas that you are most experienced.”
In addition to its project in Uganda, HVO is seeking volunteers for two to four week assignments at project sites in Haiti and Vietnam. HVO accepts volunteers on a rolling basis.
“I think the important things to emphasize is that the advantage of volunteering with HVO versus other opportunities is that the sites are vetted,” observed Dr. Autry. “There’s support on the ground, and they’re longitudinal – it’s an ongoing collaboration.”
You can learn more about volunteering by visiting the HVO website.