By Sarah Jawad
How student participation has affected the way we engage with medical issues in developing countries
The developing world is as fascinating as it is horrifying in the context of its medical issues. Prior to the past decade, individual elective terms, and the occasional voluntary placements abroad more or less made up the contact medical students, and indeed other students in Britain, would have with the developing world. However, there has recently been a shift in student attitudes. Medical issues in developing countries have been brought into sharp focus within the student body, and this is all down to students actively seeking to participate and raise awareness of potent medical problems in those countries which desperately need aid.
Student-led societies are a force of nature. Where some are apathetic, others are created for the sole purpose of making a difference, however small, and indeed are successful in their aim. Such global organisations as International Medical Corps (IMC) and Medecins Sans Frontiers have found solace in the fact that their work is appealing to and drawing in the student body – university branches of these organisations have sprouted up all over Britain. This student participation has proved invaluable in some aspects. Take the International Medical Corps as an example; they do not spend money on publicity in favour of reserving funds for their aid work, and as such it is difficult to communicate their cause to the masses. King’s College London are pioneers in that they have the first student representative group for IMC in the UK. This has allowed the organisation to reach a new, dynamic audience, who are willing to learn and get involved.
Student participation has also led to the creation of non-profit organisations, independent of universities, which arguably are more impressive with their show of innovation and autonomous attitude. Organisations suchas the Student Iraqi Medical Association, as part of their raison d’etre, seek to engage medical students in this country by acting as a forum for health issues in war torn Iraq. Individual shows of support are also notable; students are acting as a forum to spread the often shocking reality of medical situations in developing countries.
Medical volunteerism abroad raises issues of its own. An elective is not an option for every student, and not all will have the funds to partake in projects abroad. Student participation, however, has served a crucial purpose; it is presenting the concept of providing aid with regard to such issues as far more accessible. In the process, it has potentiated that sense of urgency to initiate change so necessary amongst those of us fortunate enough to be from developed areas such as Britain. A heightened awareness of health care inequities, both domestic and international, is no longer limited to medical professionals. As we enter a new decade, there is hope that students will continue to foster this activist attitude, and translate their keen and refreshing interest in such humanitarian matters as global healthcare to both their fellow students, and to the public at large. A decade on, perhaps student participation will have manifested itself as a direct and indispensable form of aid. And perhaps it will have inspired everyone to engage, and educate themselves, with matters of such global concern. Education is, after all, the most powerful initiator there is.
Sarah Jawad is a medical student with the University of London, and is spending this year pursuing an intercalated BSc in Management at Imperial Business School. She has worked on several educational, cultural, and religious committees in the past, and has a great interest in history, writing and literature and films. She is currently a contributor to SIMA’s Prospect magazine.
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