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Glob Public Health. 2017 Jul 3:1-15. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2017.1346695. [Epub ahead of print]

International clinical volunteering in Tanzania: A postcolonial analysis of a Global Health business.

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1
a Department of Anthropology , Northwestern University , Evanston , IL , USA.

Abstract

This article traces how scarcities characteristic of health systems in low-income countries (LICs), and increasing popular interest in Global Health, have inadvertently contributed to the popularisation of a specific Global Health business: international clinical volunteering through private volunteer placement organisations (VPOs). VPOs market neglected health facilities as sites where foreigners can 'make a difference', regardless of their skill set. Drawing on online investigation and ethnographic research in Tanzania over four field seasons from 2011 to 2015, including qualitative interviews with 41 foreign volunteers and 90 Tanzanian health workers, this article offers a postcolonial analysis of VPO marketing and volunteer action in health facilities of LICs. Two prevalent postcolonial racialised tropes inform both VPO marketing and foreign volunteers' discourses and practices in Tanzania. The first trope discounts Tanzanian expertise in order to envision volunteers in expert roles despite lacking training, expertise, or contextual knowledge. The second trope envisions Tanzanian patients as so impoverished that insufficiently trained volunteer help is 'better than nothing at all'. These two postcolonial racialised tropes inform the conceptual work undertaken by VPO marketing schemes and foreign volunteers in order to remake Tanzanian health professionals and patients into appropriate and justifiable sites for foreign volunteer intervention.

KEYWORDS:

International volunteering; Tanzania; ethics; global health; medical education

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