Words Matter

A recent “Goats and Soda” blog for NPR talked of how the term “Third World” was used frequently by the media after the rioting occurred at the US Capitol Building, likening the behavior to that which can occur in countries where governments may not be stable. As the term is currently used, it refers to impoverished countries that often rely on external assistance. Yet, the term originated as a reference during the Cold War to divide the world into 1) the US and its allies, 2) the Soviet Union and its allies, and 3) the rest of the non-aligned world. Not only is the term no longer relevant, but it is dismissive of a large swath of the world.

As the article explains, many people use the term “developing countries” but that implies that some countries are “developed,” and the measurement of such is usually tied to Western concepts. The World Bank chooses to identify countries according to their income (low, lower middle, middle, high), with countries where HVO often works listed as LMIC (low middle income countries). That has always seemed a bit cumbersome, and a bit too “wonky.”

While we prefer not to use labels, in situations where it is necessary to refer generally to the countries where HVO volunteers serve, we have chosen to use the term “resource limited countries.” HVO project sites are based in countries where there are constraints on resources such as facilities and equipment but which possess a tremendous resource in personnel, who are eager to learn from and share with HVO volunteers. Together, we are striving to build a stronger health care workforce for everyone.

Please stay safe, so that sometime soon, we may once again work alongside our colleagues abroad.



  1. Thank you for your comments on “third world” countries, a term that has always made me cringe, and the substitute “resource limited countries.” This is a far more relevant and kind word. I have found such beauty and kindness working in such places.

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