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Is volunteering the key to tackling health inequality?

Nurse looking out onto a waiting room in Sierra Leone VSO/Georgie Scott

Health worker shortages mean people in many countries where VSO works can't access quality care when they need it. Here, people with specialist health skills can make a huge impact. VSO volunteers from across the world are sharing skills and saving lives, helping tackle health inequality.

See all current health volunteer opportunities

Africa bears “more than 24% of the global burden of disease, but has access to only 3% of health workers and less than 1% of the world’s financial resources.”

World Health Organisation (WHO)

Meet the doctors with 50,000 potential patients

Doctors are not spread equally across the world. The UK has one doctor for every 350 citizens. By comparison, Uganda has only one doctor for every 8,300 people.

Meanwhile, Sierra Leone had just 120 qualified doctors - before the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Eleven were killed by the virus.

The doctors that remain face immense pressure: each has a potential ‘case load’ among the population of 50,000 people.

Graph showing density of doctors per population in different countries

The heavy toll of health worker shortages

It is clear that in Sierra Leone, for example, not everyone who needs to see a doctor is going to get one. This global inequity in healthcare isn’t just an injustice. It has a serious impact on the prospects for those nations who are worse off.

In Sierra Leone, the majority of women give birth without a skilled health worker present. That’s one of the biggest reasons why its women are 100 times more likely to die in childbirth than their sisters in the UK.

In Ethiopia, around three in every hundred babies born do not survive –a newborn death rate for newborns is about 100 times higher than in Europe.

Maeza new mother in Tigray, Ethiopia ©VSO/Paul James Driscoll

Maeza went through a terrible experience when her overdue baby was stillborn by the time it could be delivered in Tigray, Ethiopia. Thankfully her next child, pictured here, survived even though he was born prematurely, delivered at a unit supported by VSO volunteers.

The biggest difference you can make

Many people decide to train to work in healthcare out of a desire to help others and make a difference. Arguably, they can make the biggest possible difference by helping to strengthen health systems that face the greatest shortages of those skills.

Data scientists have shown that doctors working in countries that already experience a shortage of physicians can have a greater personal impact by up to a factor of 10, than those who practise in a more developed country.

VSO volunteers are among them. Last year they helped us improve the knowledge and skills of more than 30,000 health practitioners around the world, creating a ripple effect to create lasting improvements to health systems.

Could you volunteer?

See all current health volunteer opportunities

Please help us send more health volunteers to help tackle the health worker shortage

We'd be grateful if you can support VSO with a donation of whatever you can afford.


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