Five benefits and challenges of health volunteerism in Africa
14-02-2022 11:10:00 | by: Andrea Ayemoba | hits: 7498 | Tags:

Africa is a beautiful continent that’s diverse and rich in culture. It’s a good place to volunteer if you want to gain practical experience, do some good, and learn about different cultures. It's ideal too for medical professionals who want to grow professionally and make a difference. 

However, it’s important to note that different African countries have different health needs and that their public health systems aren’t as strong as those in developed countries. Additionally, each country has different requirements that volunteers are expected to meet. For instance, to volunteer in Tanzania for some projects, you need to be over the age of 18, a qualified professional, or at least be in your third year of nursing or medical school.

Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the requirements specific to a particular country. It’ll also help to know the benefits and challenges of volunteering in Africa. 

Benefits of health volunteerism 

There are various benefits of health volunteerism; however, some of them may be dependent on a particular country’s public health needs. 

1. Doing Good

Many health care facilities in different African countries are understaffed and under-resourced. This creates a huge challenge for local health care workers in their ability to fulfil their duties. Sharing your expertise can help the community and assist local health care workers fill the gaps in provision of services. 

2. Standing out from others

Volunteering in Africa will make you stand out to future employers. Many organizations are looking for employees that can adapt, have good character, and possess grit. Volunteerism is one way of showing future employers you aren’t scared to take challenges and are always willing to get out of your comfort zone.

3. Broadening your skills

Your time as a volunteer will be stressful and challenging. Some countries face challenges, like inadequate facilities, understaffing, and limited resources. However, this will encourage you to step out your comfort zone, find innovative solutions, and be flexible. Finding new ways to do more with less can also help the community improve the health care system and working conditions for the local medical staff.

4. Gaining practical experience

If you’re considering health and medicine as a career, then volunteering in Africa will let you gain practical experience. Many health projects require volunteers to be hands on. You’ll deal with real people in real situations, and you get to explore different roles during your volunteer program, such as caring for vulnerable children and raising awareness of epidemic diseases. 

If you’re starting out or thinking about going to med school, volunteering is a good way to decide whether this career path suits you. Besides, your volunteer work will look good on your med school application and resume. Hence, it’s a good way to build the foundation of your career.

5. Teaching others

Many countries have poor health care systems or trained staff, so some local health care members have to deal with a heavy load of cases, with little to no experience. As a volunteer, you can teach and train them.

If you’re an experienced health care professional, you can volunteer with organizations like the Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO), which is partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO). By sharing your knowledge and skills, you can help improve the health care of a developing country. Your contribution will make a significant, lasting impact on the health care system. 

Challenges of health volunteerism

Though joining a volunteer program comes with benefits, you may face different challenges, depending on the country you’re in. 

Dealing with gender bias and hostility

Some communities may be resistant to letting women perform certain tasks. Many still believe in traditional gender roles and may impose their strict rules on foreigners as well. Furthermore, female volunteers may be undermined and subject to rude remarks or sexual harassment.

Aside from these issues, some communities might be resistant to any kind of assistance from a foreigner regardless of their gender. They could even refuse to welcome them into the community. But don’t let those discourage you. Volunteering is an opportunity to find new ways to help.

Being vulnerable to illnesses

When you volunteer in Africa, you could be vulnerable to a number of tropical illnesses, many of which have been eradicated in developed countries. In many southern countries, however, malaria is a serious concern. Therefore, you should ensure that you’re up to date with all your vaccinations and seek medical attention should you get sick during your time in Africa.

Addressing safety concerns

While volunteering in Africa, it’s important that you practice basic safety precautions, as some parts have a high violence rate, especially against the youth, children, and women. You’re likely to become a target since you’re a foreigner. So, always be alert, don’t walk by yourself even during the day, and know which areas to avoid.

Before you make arrangements for your trip or sign up for a program, you should research the country you’ll be volunteering in and the area you’ll be staying. Listen to your program provider about the safety precautions you should follow. Ask your fellow volunteers who may have been there before you. 

Take safety measures at work too. Some people may have ulterior motives to join a program, so you need to be on high alert and see to it that you have all the necessary information on what to do if or when your project site gets targeted by criminals.

Working with poor infrastructure

Many African countries have inadequate health facilities that are understaffed. Because of this, it may be frustrating to do your jobs, move around, and respond to health-related emergencies.

Discovering a different work ethic

Another challenge is that there’s a difference in work ethic. You may find that some people  aren’t in a rush to get things done for their volunteer projects. This may be difficult to understand at first, especially when going into your program with a mindset of readiness to work. Consequently, you may feel demotivated by the pace at which some local workers work.

However, being part of a program will be useful because you’ll develop a stronger work ethic. 


Despite the challenges, volunteering in Africa as a health professional will be a worthwhile experience because it can change your perception of global health and your view of Africa and its people. It can even influence the way you approach different health situations.