UK doctors and nurses who work in the developing world would benefit from better preparation for cultural challenges, according to 'Meeting the Health needs of the poor', a BMA report published on Friday.
The BMA's International Committee surveyed 79 UK healthcare professionals, including 67 doctors, who had recently worked in Africa.
Respondents identified sexually transmitted illnesses, malaria and nutrition as the biggest health problems in the communities in which they worked. In many cases, shortages of resources meant that these problems could not be addressed - for example poverty led to families being forced to sell malaria nets, and HIV was not addressed because of the cost of testing and medication.
Eight out of ten respondents said that national government health systems were either ineffective or very ineffective in meeting the health needs of the poor. They consistently reported that government-funded hospitals had little or poor supplies of medication.
However, a further problem was misunderstanding between aid organizations and local communities. One respondent noted: 'Most international NGOs are not adequately engaging local communities to establish local health needs, and therefore don't understand local healthcare priorities...They use western healthcare models that are meaningless to local health workers.'
Dr Edwin Borman, chair of the BMA International Committee, says:
'Obviously one of the biggest problems UK medical staff face in the developing world is a lack or resources. What is sometimes overlooked, however, is the need for major cultural preparation. The assumption that UK doctors and nurses can go anywhere and work effectively reflects a lack of awareness about the realities of the healthcare needs of the developing world. Development aid needs to be planned in a way that takes into account local conditions and knowledge. When staff are properly prepared, their contribution can be extraordinary.'