Voluntourism in Nepal
The Ethical Implications of Visiting Medical Aid Groups
Voluntourism is an increasingly prevalent approach to international travel that combines typical tourist activities with some type of service project in a developing country. Voluntourism opportunities in the medical field have especially grown in popularity among high school and university students. Academic literature suggests that medical volunteer trips have brought about a host of issues in developing countries such as unethical medical practices, creating dependencies on foreign assistance, altering healthcare seeking behaviors, and impeding the development of the domestic health care system. My own exposure to Nepal through fifteen weeks studying abroad and interviews I conducted with I/NGO staff in the Nepalese health sector validated these findings. With all of the resources that have been channeled into medical voluntourism programs designed to alleviate health issues, why do these programs often serve to worsen the health situation in developing countries? Using Nepal as a case study, I examine this issue and argue that due to the economic incentives underlying the programs, the lack of follow-up care, and the focus on provision of relief services, medical voluntourism is detrimental to the development of a functioning health care system in developing countries. Regardless of whether it is founded on good intentions, medical voluntourism too often results in inappropriate responses that are not in line with the actual needs of the locals. Potential voluntourists would do well to question the efficacy and legitimacy of these programs.