Have you ever returned from a medical mission and wondered, “What could we have been done better?” No matter how professional a program is, there will always be room for improvement. The questions in this post are not meant to criticize past performance. They are, however, meant to inspire thought on how to facilitate effective health services development and improve the quality of care provided by short-term global health programs. These ideas were developed by exploring best practices in these contexts.
Our assessment and study began with asking a question about harm related to such service projects, but there were many other questions that needed to be answered. The questions below are the ones that have continued to burden our hearts throughout our years of global health work in developing countries. These questions have helped us and many others in the global health community define best practices. We first presented this list of questions at the Global Missions Health Conference in 2005. Since that time these questions have been used by many organizations, universities, and churches to rethink how their global health work is done. We hope they affect your work as profoundly as they have affected ours and that of thousands of others.
1. Have you fully assessed in-country healthcare assets and capacity? Are you fully aware of the governmental and non-governmental health services being provided in the area being served, and are you collaborating with them?
2. Are you aware of the credentialing process in the country you are serving? Does each physician and nurse in your group have governmental authorization to work in the receiving country?
3. Are the skills, knowledge, and expertise of local providers being utilized and acknowledged?
4. Does your team know and adhere to World Health Organization (WHO) standards of practice for developing countries, especially those related to dispensing pharmaceuticals?
5. How is follow-up care being provided to those whom you treat?
6. Are the weights, heights, and immunization data being recorded for all children age 0–5, and how is that information being used to support local health systems or long-term programming efforts?
7. Are you using the data collected by your short-term team to implement public health programming, either directly or through a partnership with another non-governmental organization (NGO) or governmental health system?
8. What types of health education are being provided by your team, and is it connected with health educators or health workers in the community?
9. Are pregnant mothers being assessed for high-risk pregnancy and plugged into prenatal care where available?
10. If you are providing surgical care, are you following the WHO facility capacity guidelines for safe surgery?
We created this list of questions to help us think through what we were learning by studying medical missions from the receiver’s perspective. We also found that many standards already exist to guide our global health work, but they are not well known and are rarely utilized.
If you would like more information on this topic, there are many posts on the topic of best practices in global health work subscribe to these blog posts. You can also look at the Christian Health Service Corps website under Clinical Resources. There is a much more extensive list of web links and resources in my book When Healthcare Hurts: An Evidence-Based Guide for Best Practices in Global Health Initiatives.