Many volunteer health workers exploited, new study reveals

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A study by Mount Sinai researchers shows that a lot of volunteer community health care workers are being taken advantage of.

These volunteers often get paid less than the minimum wage and work long hours. The study looked at health care programs in 19 different countries and found that about 59% of these volunteers experienced exploitation at work.

This is especially concerning as these volunteers are crucial in community health programs, often working next to paid health workers.

The Nitty-Gritty: What the Study Examined

The study focused on programs where volunteer health workers and paid health workers work together.

In these setups, called “two-tiered” or “dual-cadre” programs, the volunteers often end up doing complex tasks that are typically done by paid workers.

About 17% of these volunteers would need to work a full 40-hour week just to complete their duties. These long hours and complex tasks can stress out the volunteers, who are not even getting paid fairly for their work.

The researchers looked at 117 different reports, going back to 1988, to gather this information. The studies covered a wide range of countries, including those in the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, and east Asia.

They looked at factors like how much the workers were paid, how many hours they worked, and what kinds of tasks they were given.

Urgent Call for Better Policies

The study’s senior author, Madeleine Ballard, pointed out that while volunteering is a great thing, it’s wrong to make volunteers do the work that should be done by paid professionals.

She said it’s especially wrong to exploit people who are volunteering in order to secure basic health services for themselves or their community.

Ballard and her team believe that labor laws need to be followed and that volunteers shouldn’t be given the bulk of the work in these health programs. They also say that volunteers should have a say in making policies that affect them.

With a worldwide shortage of health care workers, these types of volunteer programs are becoming more common, especially in less wealthy countries.

But the study warns that relying too much on volunteers can lead to poor-quality health care.

What Needs to Happen Next

The researchers suggest that it’s time to rethink how these health care programs are set up. They believe we should make sure volunteer health workers are treated fairly and aren’t overwhelmed with work.

That means paying them properly and making sure they aren’t working long hours. By doing this, not only do we respect the volunteers, but we also improve the quality of health care for everyone in the community.

In summary, the study rings alarm bells about how volunteer community health workers are treated. It calls for urgent action to improve working conditions, stressing that doing so will lead to better health outcomes for communities.

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The research findings can be found in The Lancet Global Health.

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