Dr. Garry Hough giving a lecture on ankle fractures in Kampala, Uganda, in 1990.
For more than 34 years, Health Volunteers Overseas has improved the availability and quality of health care through the education, training, and professional development of the health workforce in resource-scarce countries. We invest in health workers, building health system resilience and capacity to ensure all people have access to high quality health care delivered by local health professionals.
Professional collaboration and partnership have always been at the heart of our mission.
THE CALL TO ACTION
In 1984, the Journal of the American Medical Association published Dr. Ralph Crawshaw’s article, “Doctors Across the Sea.” Citing the essential role of personal connection and professional collaboration, Dr. Crawshaw noted the potential of his fellow health care providers to improve global health care: “Yours is the hand that may reach across international boundaries, to help others in the practice of medicine, certainly to help yourself. What it takes to make the difference is the will to act out of your curiosity, humanity, and concern.”
Ultimately, Dr. Crawshaw called for the establishment of an organization to facilitate international medical professional outreach and exchange. He cited the “enviable record of accomplishment” of Orthopaedics Overseas (OO) – the founding division of Health Volunteers Overseas – noting that their work offered “a graphic example of overseas’ medical needs being met without government involvement, at minimum cost, with maximum return.” This article is an important part of HVO’s history – it sounded the call to action and provided a road map by suggesting the involvement of medical societies.
In the spring of 1986, at the urging of Drs. Garry Hough and James Cobey, the OO Board of Directors approved a motion to become the founding division of the newly incorporated Health Volunteers Overseas, which officially opened for business on August 1, 1986. Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in the District of Columbia, HVO’s mission is to improve the availability and quality of health care in resource-limited countries through the training and education of local health care providers. Early partners included the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, the American College of Physicians, and the American Dental Association.
Much has changed in the world since 1984, but the sentiments expressed by Dr. Crawshaw are as true today as they were then – the collegial exchange and partnership he invoked remain essential to our work.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE OF GLOBAL HEALTH
When HVO began in 1986, providing education and training required volunteers to board a plane and work shoulder-to-shoulder with students, residents, and faculty at project sites. While face-to-face exchange continues to form the core of our approach, technology has created new potential for innovation. HVO is harnessing this potential and, at the same time, stalwart in our commitment to the enduring and timeless concepts of professional mentoring and lifelong learning.
Today, HVO has expanded into 18 program areas, supported by 19 sponsor organizations. Our work encompasses dozens of health specialties. Volunteers complete more than 400 assignments each year, and HVO coordinates nearly 100 projects across four continents. This work brings training and education to more than 3,000 health care providers and students each year – and HVO continues to cultivate partnerships and opportunities to broaden our reach.
As humanity faces new and evolving global health threats – from treating TB, the age-old infection termed the “silent killer” to the pandemic caused by the coronavirus – we must accelerate global health training to ensure that there are more and better qualified health care providers everywhere they are needed.
Our global health education work is urgent, necessitating strong and equitable partnerships, dedicated teachers and learners, fearless leaders, generous donors, informative research, and continuous innovation.