HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS as well as financial donations are sorely needed in the world’s latest disaster areas and war zones.

First-time volunteers are most likely to be sent to peaceful, remote regions of the world, and experienced practitioners to the areas of greatest need.

However, some new recruits, particularly specialists such as surgeons and anaesthetists, may be asked to go directly to emergency hotspots — but only for a relatively short period of a few weeks.

In flood-affected Pakistan, in the near future there may be a need for a significant boost in medical support, particularly in the event of large-scale malnutrition as a result of the devastation of huge tracts of crop-growing areas.

Leading humanitarian health care non-governmental organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is playing a smaller role in Pakistan than other aid agencies, says the organisation’s Head of Field Human Resources, Robin Sands.

“The response there is still a large medical response but there’s an even greater need for food and water,” Mr Sands says.

It is the more distant disaster — the Haiti earthquake in January this year — that is continuing to draw the greatest share of health care workers.

Two months after the earthquake, MSF had some 350 international field staff assisting in Haiti, compared with about 150 international staff currently working in Pakistan in existing programs or in response to the floods.

This means there are fewer people to spread across the 60-odd other countries in several continents and many regions of the world, including South America, Africa and Asia, where MSF provides aid, so recruitment will be an area of need for some time.

Mr Sands expects Haiti to need support for a long time — there is still a need for shelter because so many people suffered injuries, and the country’s infrastructure, including hospitals, will have to be rebuilt.

“We have been in Haiti as an organisation for 19 years and may now need to be there another 19 years,” Mr Sands says.

MSF continues to open offices in new regions globally and investigates reports by visiting the area in question before deciding whether external help is needed.

With some 22 000 people in the field on its books globally, MSF is the largest humanitarian medical organisation in the world.

For updated information on professionals most needed and in which areas, go to http:/

The full version of this story will be published in MJA Careers on 4 October 2010.

Posted 20 September 2010

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