MEDICO to Honduras
Last March, my wife Lola and I travelled to Honduras with MEDICO ( www.medico.org ), a secular, volunteer ...
© MinutesAlone / Flickr.com
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They appeared seemingly out of nowhere, off a jungle side trail none of us had noticed. Six small ...
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There’s an option for every physician who wants to serve. But in order to decide which destination and which organization is right for you, there are a few essential factors you must first consider. Where do you want to go? What type of work do you want to do? What degree of danger are you willing to accept? How many weeks or months are you interested in committing to? Giving those questions some thought will help you narrow down your options and find the medical-aid opportunity that fits you best.
The condition of the medical facilities and equipment will depend on where you go, and with which organization you’re working. It’s unlikely you’ll be expected to bring any kind of equipment with you, though it’s worth asking, as there are some exceptions. Medical Mercy Canada and the Canadian Association of Medical Teams Abroad, which send physicians to southeast Asia and to Ecuador, respectively, send along big containers and hockey bags full of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies with their volunteers. But those supplies will be provided by the organization.
How you pack will depend on the accommodations your organization is providing--or, as the case may be, not providing. Some of the more rugged missions may involve trekking through the jungle and sleeping on the floor and you may need to consider bringing things like a sleeping bag and hiking boots. Other organizations set up their physician volunteers in comfortable hotel rooms or apartments for the duration of their stay. Ask your organization’s volunteer liaison about what you can expect in terms of housing and accommodations so you can plan accordingly.
Yes, you will likely need a visa. In most cases, the aid organization will help arrange your trip, including dealing with getting you a visa.
Yes, probably you will. Of course, your vaccine needs will depend entirely on where your volunteer work takes you. At the very least, it would be prudent to make sure all your vaccines are up to date. (Some organizations, including Volunteer Service Overseas Canada, will cover your vaccination costs.) The Public Health Agency of Canada publishes a useful online database of travel health advisories that you can consult before you go to find out if there are any diseases you need to be concerned about in your destination country. The database is available at (http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/pub-eng.php)[www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/pub-eng.php] Another resource is the MD Travel Health website, which provides comprehensive, detailed travel health and safety information for countries all around the world, produced for a physician audience by New York internist and infectious diseases specialist and Lonely Planet travel writer David Goldberg. (There’s even advice on things like volcano activity and tour boat certification.) MD Travel Health is online at (http://www.mdtravelhealth.com/)[www.mdtravelhealth.com].
Health insurance coverage varies by aid organization. Well before your departure date, find out whether your organization will provide you with emergency medical coverage when you’re outside Canada; if not, you’ll need to arrange your own coverage with a private insurance vendor. A list of private insurers is available from the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada at http://www.thiaonline.com.
Yes, in most cases. The CMPA’s policy on Assistance in Legal Matters Initiated by Non-Residents of Canada, last revised in 2003, makes clear that it will assist a member on cases involving care provided outside Canada if the member is providing medical care under the auspices of a charitable or missionary organization. But that assistance is conditional: you must notify the CMPA of your intention to provide medical care outside Canada before you leave. If your mission lasts less than three months, you will be expected to continue paying your CMPA membership fee as usual. If your mission lasts between three months and one year long, you qualify for a discounted CMPA membership at an annual rate of just $456. If the mission lasts longer than a year, however, you will not qualify for CMPA assistance. Medical aid provided in the United States does not qualify for coverage at all; the CMPA explains that high legal costs in the U.S. prohibit them from offering assistance there. The CMPA also reminds physicians to verify that they comply with overseas jurisdictions’ licensure and hospital privileges requirements.
It depends on which organization you’re working with. Some organizations, like Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and Volunteer Service Overseas Canada, cover the costs of just about everything--airfare, housing, food, vaccines, health insurance, visas, etc. -- while others, like the Canadian Association of Medical Teams Abroad and the Canadian Network for International Surgery, expect volunteers to pay for some or all of these. However, many of those expenses may qualify as tax-deductible charitable donations. Keep track of your expenses so you can ask your organization for a donation receipt when you return.
First of all, ask your organization’s volunteer liaison about your concerns. You can also find out a lot about your destination country using a few simple online resources. The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides up-to-date travel advisories at http://www.voyage.gc.ca/dest/ctry/reportpage-en.asp MD Travel Health, at http://www.mdtravelhealth.com/, collects information from the United States Department of State’s consular services about countries’ unstable regions and crime problems. The US Department of State also provides travel advisories, similar to the Canadian government’s service, at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html. If you’re still unsatisfied and you want to hear from someone who’s actually worked in the field in the area where you’re headed, ask your volunteer liaison to put you in touch with a current or recently returned volunteer who can answer your questions and set your mind at ease.
In most cases, no. However, there are some exceptions. For instance, Volunteer Service Overseas Canada says partners can accompany volunteers in some cases; the Victoria-Vanuatu Physician Project encourages volunteers’ families to go to Vanuatu with them; and many of Medical Mercy Canada’s volunteers are couples, plus the college-age children of Thai-Burmese border coordinators Deryl Comeau and Dr Ray Comeau. Some destinations, like those serviced by disaster relief organizations like the Canadian Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders, are unsuitable for partners and children to join volunteers for safety reasons.