06 April 2011
Manju, a volunteer nurse, checks the blood pressure of a pregnant woman during the weekly antenatal clinic at Panchthar District Hospital in the village of Phidim in the remote, mountainous Eastern Region. At the clinic, women receive checkups, nutrition counselling and tetanus vaccinations, as well as iron and Vitamin A supplements. (UNICEF/Anita Khemka)In a world where so few people have ready access to healthcare, volunteers can create big changes
We depend on antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines to treat conditions that decades ago would have proved fatal. But when antimicrobial resistance - also known as drug resistance - occurs, it renders these medicines ineffective.
On World Health Day this year, 7 April, the World Health Organization (WHO) is campaigning to recognize this issue, and volunteers are an essential part of the solution.
Studies of healthy volunteers are crucial to the understanding and treatment of diseases. They provide a baseline for measuring the extent of disease, and provide important information about the safety and effectiveness of various treatments.
The people who volunteer to participate in such studies with governments and research institutions are often quite courageous individuals who volunteer their time and their bodies towards overcoming the drug resistance problem. Since 2011 marks the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers, it is important to recognize this contribution, without which the struggle to beat disease cannot be won.
Moreover, when it comes to distributing medicines, there are no substitutes for well-trained doctors and nurses and well-funded and equipped healthcare facilities. But the reality is that these advantages are inaccessible to many people in rural or deprived areas, especially in the South.
But volunteers can play another part. Volunteers, when properly trained and managed, can make up the numbers and reach the people. They can readily perform the simple community actions (like inoculations and distributing basic information) that ultimately save millions of lives. Read on about healthcare volunteers in Nepal.
Through mass inoculation programmes, volunteers with often simple tools and basic knowledge have helped rid countries of smallpox and polio – indeed, they have already changed the world.
More than just providing the drugs, skilled and qualified volunteers are frequently called upon to provide more than just the basic services. In crisis situations, NGOs and organizations such as national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies or Médicins sans Frontières are at the vanguard, saving lives in the field.
Even when the humanitarian situation is less acute, volunteer medical professionals are sometimes still at the heart of stretched systems. For example, UNV programmes in Malawi and Trinidad and Tobago have placed UN Volunteer doctors into areas where few other professionals are available.
So as we recognize World Health Day and the International Year of Volunteers plus 10, let’s recognize these volunteers in scrubs and white coats making a difference to communities worldwide.