VSO works in over 20 countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific to support disadvantaged people in fulfilling their rights to physical, mental and social wellbeing, and to offer good-quality essential health services.
There is a vicious circle of ill health, poverty and social exclusion. Inequalities in wealth and access to services impair people's ability to maintain their health and wellbeing. This prevents them from fulfilling their potential and from participating fully in their communities and nations.
Lack of basic services
Millions of people in developing countries lack access to adequate basic services including health care, clean water, sanitation and food security, a situation exacerbated in many countries by the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
Inadequate health and associated welfare services reduce individual wellbeing and exacerbate social exclusion. If disadvantaged people could exercise their rights to these services, much poor health and social exclusion would be prevented.
Health and social services
Our international volunteers help to improve the quality and availability of health services by strengthening the capabilities of health professionals at all levels of the health system. We also work with government and non-governmental partners to improve management and delivery of services. We support, where possible, community-based services (including primary healthcare) and outreach work in health promotion, prevention of illness and disease and front line treatment, care and support. VSO increasingly aims to support national volunteering in health, recognising the critical contribution played towards improving health outcomes by unpaid, community based volunteers in many developing countries.
We work hard to tackle the underlying causes of social exclusion and ill health. This includes focusing on the social determinants of health which include provision of clean water and sanitation, combating malnutrition, tackling gender inequality which affects the ability of women, girls and vulnerable men to access appropriate health care, mitigating the effects of climate change on poor people’s health and addressing issues related to poor governance of national health systems.
VSO also promotes the voice of disadvantaged users when health and social services are being planned and delivered. Our aim is to help improve legislative systems through the introduction of pro-poor health policies that enable disadvantaged children, women and men to secure their rights to these services and challenge practices which discriminate against them.
International Monetary Fund and health workers report
VSO has contributed to research led by the Stop Aids Campaign and Action for Global Health. The report looks the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and asks if policies have changed in the light of the world economic crisis. The report can be downloaded from this page.
Health worker migration
At present, Africa has just 3% of global health workers but bears 24% of the global burden of disease. In the last two decades, these shortages have been exacerbated by thousands of health workers leaving to find employment in developed countries, including the UK.
VSO has published Brain Gain – a report highlighting how improved circular migration, the legal and recurring movement of people, could help international aid efforts to tackle this 'brain drain' of health workers leaving Africa.
Brain Gain contains a number of policy recommendations that could reduce the devastating effects that the migration of health workers is currently having on sub-Saharan Africa. VSO argues that by supporting the professional development of migrant health workers in the UK and increasing opportunities for health workers to return home and help their countries of origin, health worker migration could become a powerful force for strengthening the African health workforce. You can download a copy of the report from the list of documents on this page.
Key position/learning papers
- Brain Gain (542KB)
- VSO's approach to working in health (35KB)
- Your Money or Your Life (866KB)
- National volunteering health research report (1305KB)