Volunteer for a life-changing experience
The contrast between life in the developed and developing worlds is sharpest for those who travel abroad to work with the most under-privileged.
Travelvax Australia doctor, Dr Bharat Gadhvi, of Cairns, believes that only then can we appreciate how lucky we are.....
by Dr Bharat Gadhvi
They say travel broadens the mind. I say it also cleanses the soul.
Healthcare professionals have enormous potential to relieve human suffering and I believe doctors and nurses should give of their time and knowledge to help the disadvantaged people of the world.
It was only through being able to travel and use my medical training that I came to understand the profound effect volunteering can have on the lives of others.
From 2001 to 2005 my wife, Deepa and I worked with a NGO called ASHWINI (Association for Health Welfare in the Nilgiris), in the majestic Nilgiri Hills. Located in the Western Ghats, these are Indias own Blue Mountains, stretching 1600km through the countrys southwest.
In pockets of ever-dwindling forest in the deepest corners of the Nilgiri Hills, live the adivasi. These indigenous tribes people are regarded as the lowest of the low on Indias caste ladder.
After humble beginnings as a land rights movement for these highly marginalised communities, a health organisation was born in 1990.
Today, a 40-bed hospital is the cornerstone of a Community Health Program that covers more than 200 villages. (ASHWINI also started one of Indias first Community Health Insurance schemes in the early 1990s.)
Deepa and I helped to train the adivasi youth to become hospital nurses and village health workers, so they could manage many common illnesses in their village, provide health education and be able to recognise when villagers needed to be brought to the hospital.
These days, the health of the adivasis has improved dramatically; Infant mortality is lower than in many parts of India, maternal mortality is almost zero, most children are immunised and the adivasis are able to access healthcare much like everyone else.
Death stalked the hills
But, 25 years ago the situation was quite different.
Mothers dying in pregnancy or during childbirth was relatively common, immunisation rates were almost zero, polio was common, and people died from tetanus.
Indeed, the adivasis feared going to a hospital, believing that if you walked in you would leave in a coffin.
Ill never forget meeting a young woman who had given birth just 10 days earlier. Despite a high fever, pain and anaemia, she walked several hours with her baby to the hospital to have a litre of pus drained from a breast abscess.
Families paid their small hospital fees with eggs or honey collected from the forest and repaid us for the treatment we gave them with the most wonderful smiles of gratitude.
How lucky we are
Having trained as a doctor in England and now practising in Australia, I have also witnessed the other extremes of healthcare: Incredibly expensive and often highly wasteful health services, patients complaining about not being able to see the doctor of their choice immediately, or having to wait for 30 minutes for an appointment.
All of us should experience even briefly what its like having to decide between food and medicine.
Maybe then can we appreciate how truly lucky we are to have affordable, readily available healthcare through the safety net of Medicare.
For many of the worlds less fortunate, life is very different.
Next time you travel overseas, ask our travel health advisors for advice on what may be recommended for your trip and see one of Travelvax Australia's 32 clinics nationally. Call our travel health advisory line on 1300 360 164 for more details.
AUSTRALIA: Travellers import dengue, measles
BENIN: Meningitis hits northwest
BOLIVIA: Rise of rare disease
BRAZIL: Dengue at 5-year high in Piracicaba
CHINA: Hong Kongs flu season drags on
COLOMBIA: Neiva battles dengue, leishmaniasis
GHANA: Cholera hits Accra
HAITI: Cholera respite
INDIA: 250 AES deaths; Malaria rising in north; Dengue outbreaks; Cholera in Assam
IRAN: Tick disease in east
MAURITIUS: Locally-acquired malaria
PUERTO RICO: Dengue epidemic looms
JAMAICA: Dengue surfaces
PHILIPPINES: Davaos dengue overload
SINGAPORE: Fear of dengue surge
SRI LANKA: Dengue at pandemic level
SUDAN: Cholera death in Bentiu
VIETNAM: Dengue grips Dong Nai
Travelvax Australia compiles this weekly bulletin of global travel health alerts, risk assessments and advice for the information of Austrlaian travellers and the travel industry. Please contact our travel health advisory service on 1300 360 164 for broad destination-specific advice and vaccination recommendations. Recommended vaccines, travel medicine, trip-specific advice and accessories are available during a medical consultation with a travel health professional at any of Travelvax Australians 32 clinics. Visit our website or call 1300 360 164.
Source = Travelvax