Saluting Health Volunteers Overseas

May 1, 2012

Fortuitous coincidences are always happening, and one happened to me recently in the form of the arrival of a press release about the outstanding organization Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO). It explained that Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent C. Gray had signed a proclamation declaring April 14 “Health Volunteers Overseas Day” in his city. In the proclamation, Mayor Gray noted that the organization “has become a global leader in the development and implementation of educational programs designed to empower healthcare providers in developing countries to improve the availability and quality of healthcare.” That is a succinct summary of the invaluable work HVO does, which I am pleased to publicize.

A private, non-profit organization, Health Volunteers Overseas was founded in 1986 to improve global health through education of local healthcare providers. In 25 years of service, HVO's training has transformed the lives of countless patients, and of the volunteers themselves. HVO volunteers train, mentor, and provide professional support to healthcare providers who care for the neediest people in very difficult circumstances.

HVO programs are staffed by short-term volunteers—fully licensed and trained healthcare professionals. The average assignment is 2 to 4 weeks, although some programs vary in either direction. Volunteers pay their travel expenses and usually a minimal fee for housing, normally at a guest house close to their workplace.

The organization currently has opportunities for medical technicians, lab technicians, lab administrative personnel, and blood bankers in several sites in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Volunteers work with peers, residents, and medical students, drawing on their skills to teach, train, and help improve local healthcare.

One current HVO program is a partnership with the American Society of Hematology (ASH); sites in Uganda, Peru and Cambodia have been established. Since hematology is the topic of this issue's CE story, I call that another happy coincidence.

At Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, volunteers provide training in both clinical and laboratory-based hematology to medical students, laboratory technologists, and clinicians. They train pathologists and lab staff in assessing bone marrow and blood smears and improving their diagnostic skills based on smear morphology. Volunteers also lecture in several venues ranging from small groups to Grand Rounds, and foster an interface between laboratory and clinical hematology staff. Prevalent hematological diseases there include malaria, anemia, sickle cell anemia, and hematological complications of HIV/AIDS.

In Peru, the sites include Lima, Arequipa and Cusco. Volunteers are needed to help develop protocols and standardized treatment guidelines for patient management and to optimize blood banking and transfusion practices.

Rebagliatti Hospital in Lima, a sophisticated facility, is Peru's major referral center for hemophilia and hematologic malignancies. It has Peru's only bone marrow transplant center and requires assistance in the development of an unrelated BMT program. At Almenara Hospital in Lima and Escobedo Hospital in Arequipa, volunteers are needed to improve molecular diagnostics and flow cytometry capabilities. In Cusco, the Velasco Hospital, a relatively basic facility, requires volunteers to enhance diagnostic skills and interpretation of bone marrow and blood smears and lymph node aspirates.

In Cambodia, volunteers are placed at the Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) in Siem Reap. Volunteers with expertise in pediatric clinical laboratory hematology will be used to optimize the effectiveness of laboratory investigations available to clinicians and to enhance the hematology/oncology knowledge and skills of AHC physicians and laboratory staff. Specific objectives include implementing an algorithm for reflexive testing of children with anemia and working to align the AHC hematology lab to World Health Organization transfusion standards for children.

If you are interested in seeing, working, and making a difference in another part of the world, programs offered by Health Volunteers Overseas may be for you. Visit HVO's website ( to learn more, or contact HVO Volunteer Coordinator Danielle Stonehirsch at [email protected]. I acknowledge Ms. Stonehirsch's assistance in helping me bring this information to readers of MLO.

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