Module 2: Nonprofits & Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)

“Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), also known as private voluntary organizations (PVOs), provide approximately 20% of all external health aid to developing countries.”- International Medical Volunteers Association(1)

2.1 What are NGOs? 

According to the World Bank, NGOs are “private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development.”(2) They are essentially partners of governments, but they normally operate with a higher level of flexibility than governmental bodies because they are not restricted by bureaucratic boundaries.(3) Healthcare NGOs work outside the government, freely engaging the broader community of policy-makers and other researchers to overcome inequities in health. Sometimes, NGOs emerge in response to government inaction in times of humanitarian crises. Some well-known NGOs involved in global health include Project Hope, Oxfam International and Save the Children

2.2 The Role of NGOs in Healthcare – Research & Advocacy

“A major global health research issue is the inequitable distribution of research efforts and funds directed towards populations suffering the world’s greatest health problems. This situation has been referred to as the 10/90 gap because only a meager 10% of all health research funding is being used to address 90% of the world’s burden of disease, suffered primarily in developing countries. Because of this imbalance, there have been major attempts at redirecting research efforts and funds to the health problems of low and middle income countries.”(4)

One main area of involvement of NGOs is in global health research. Research is important because it serves as the foundation for further action, informing policies and programs and guiding the development of human resources. As research efforts in low and middle income countries are largely neglected, NGOs step in to make up for these shortfalls in research activity. They are involved in epidemiological research, clinical research, health services research, policy research. etc. The research efforts of NGOs help to complement the research of governmental bodies.

As NGOs base their policy stances on hard data, they normally hire scientific researchers to run their in-house research departments. NGOs give scientists the opportunity to combine their interests in science and public policy, as their research findings are used to argue for policy changes that improve health and development.(5) For instance, a climate-change researcher for an environmental NGO could persuade the government with hard, scientific evidence of rising world temperatures to adopt policy changes to reduce carbon emissions. 

"When you can make a difference to the lives of many by using your science, you will feel a sense of satisfaction in what you have accomplished that transcends the paper in Nature or Science.”(6) - Gerald Keusch, associate dean for global health at Boston University’s School of Public Health

NGOs advocate and campaign for quality healthcare for all. They press governments and other donors for funding to fight disease and improve health, run health education programs, lobby on behalf of the poor for greater access to essential medicines and pressure governments to tackle pressing health issues.

Go To Module 3: Working at Clinics in Resource-Poor Settings >>

Footnotes

(1) "The Major International Health Organizations." International Medical Volunteers Association. International Medical Volunteers Association. 15 Jul 2009.

(2) Delisle, Helene, Janet Hatcher Roberts, Michelle Munro, Lori Jones, and Theresa W Gyorkos. "Health Research Policy and Systems." 21 Feb 2005 Web.25 Jun 2009.

(3) Delisle, Helene, Janet Hatcher Roberts, Michelle Munro, Lori Jones, and Theresa W Gyorkos. "Health Research Policy and Systems." 21 Feb 2005 Web.25 Jun 2009.

(4) Delisle, Helene, Janet Hatcher Roberts, Michelle Munro, Lori Jones, and Theresa W Gyorkos. "Health Research Policy and Systems." 21 Feb 2005 Web.25 Jun 2009.

(5) Gewin, Virginia. "Save the world and keep a career." Nature Vol. 43823 Nov 2005 526-527. Web.15 Jul 2009.

(6) Ibid.