Public health professionals who work abroad play an important role in alleviating world health crises. The demand for international public health workers is enormous. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated a shortage of at least 4 million public health workers who are needed to deliver essential health services, reduce child mortality, and combat malaria, AIDS and other diseases around the world. In addition to doctors, nurses and midwives, public health specialists are part of the global health human resource shortage. Those who have specific interests in health education and disease control and prevention are critically needed in developing countries.
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Time spent working abroad can enhance a public health worker’s professional standing by providing a greater understanding of international health issues. Experience gained while working in other countries can contribute significantly to professional development, especially in the areas of population health assessment, resource allocation and project management. Traveling abroad and becoming familiar with other cultures can also be personally enriching and enhance one’s sense of self-reliance and self-confidence.
World public health is addressed by global health initiatives sponsored by government agencies, foundations, non-governmental organizations and representatives of the private sector. Because the field of public health is broad, public health specialists are needed in a wide range of different capacities. International assignments range from short-term emergency relief to longer-term positions in program development.
There is an ongoing demand for emergency workers to provide humanitarian aid to areas affected by natural disasters, war and economic crises. As the United Nations’ coordinating authority on international public health, WHO is responsible for advanced planning for international emergency responses. WHO works with national authorities and community leaders to prepare for emergency health crises. The organization also monitors and responds to disease outbreaks that can lead to epidemics and pandemics. Other global organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders provide humanitarian aid, including healthcare, to people who are affected by violence, armed conflict, natural disasters and malnutrition throughout the world.
Public health workers are also needed to develop and support world health programs. Many emergency responders gain experience by first working for government agencies and non-governmental organizations on healthcare project development. UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) works in more than 150 countries around the world, providing children with immunizations and vaccinations, clean drinking water, nourishment and preventative tools to fight disease. The Peace Corps uses a combination of agency employees and volunteers to provide medical support and health education at the grassroots level.
Global volunteer service and international internships are useful for gaining initial experience working abroad. In addition to providing international experience that is often a prerequisite for managerial positions, becoming an international volunteer affords an excellent opportunity to travel abroad while providing humanitarian service. Before accepting either a volunteer or professional position abroad, it is important to become informed about any conditions that could affect your health, safety or security. The U.S. Department of State’s International Travel website provides up-to-date travel information for every country in the world, including visa requirements, the location of U.S. embassies; health and medical conditions; and crime and security information. It pays to learn everything you can about your destination and the kind of work you will be doing before you travel abroad.