VSO has been working through volunteers in the health systems of developing countries since the 1960s. Filling gaps in frontline healthcare with volunteers can only be a short-term solution.
We work in health systems strengthening as well as by engaging in research, advocacy and campaigns to try and rise to the challenge of making systems that deal with health, HIV and AIDS stronger and fairer.
Our advocacy work is currently concentrated in two main areas - the impact on global health of the poor conditions faced by its workers and resulting behaviours, and responding to the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
A common thread is highlighting how inequality drives unacceptable health outcomes around the world
Focus on doctors and nurses - The people on the front line of healthcare
The health sector is a dramatic example of the inequality with which resources are distributed across the globe. Nowhere is the devastating impact of under investment in health systems more apparent than in Africa.
Too often 'resources' are thought of in terms of money or medicines alone, ignoring the human element - the doctors, nurses, surgeons, midwives and other healthcare professionals deploying their life-saving skills on the front line.
Nearly one in four countries in the world suffers from a 'severe' shortage of health workers, the majority of these being in Africa. Meanwhile, the density of doctors within the population they serve is almost 150 times greater in the United Kingdom than it is in Malawi.
The result of this shortage in developing countries is reduced availability and affordability of healthcare, with thousands of men, women and children dying unnecessarily. Our Valuing Health Workers project reveals what can be done to attract more health workers and keep them in post in the places they are needed most.
Raising voices on HIV and AIDS
In many developing countries, the HIV and AIDS epidemic is adding increasing strain to already-fragile health systems and having wide-ranging impacts on communities.
As well as addressing the issues through its health programmes, VSO does pushes for positive action on HIV and AIDS through VSO RHAISA, a regional initiative working in countries across Southern Africa.
VSO RHAISA's advocacy work includes raising awareness of the disproportionate social impact of the disease on women and girls, the role of informal caregivers, and combating HIV and AIDS among prison populations.
VSO accepts that HIV and AIDS is a gender issue; as the pandemic has reached a critical level, women are being particularly affected. They are more vulnerable to infection and also carry a greater burden of caring for people with HIV and AIDS.
Recognising also that rates of HIV infection are higher among prisoner populations, VSO is also calling on those in positions of power across Southern Africa to implement SADC minimum standards for treatment and testing in prison facilities. Currently prisoners in the region are at highly increased risk of exposure to HIV but have very poor access to testing, treatment and medication.