White saviours, global health and aeroplanes.

White saviour. I am glad I am aware of this term. I am definitely white and may have actually saved a few lives in my time. But the term is mostly meant to derogatory. A dismissive term for those who come from the Europe or the global west to Africa or the global south without understanding the context. Who seek to impose there own solutions onto the problems of a continent. Who often refer to the diverse continent as a single entity and whose primary goal is the self-satisfaction that comes from perceived altruism.

Does my experience and qualifications exclude me from this group? As a relatively experienced doctor with qualifications in tropical health and experience in medium-resourced emergency departments automatically set me apart? When I was younger I consciously avoided “volun-tourism,” I waited several years and racked up years of study and work so I could be of some use when I did eventually delve into the complex and messy world of humanitarian aid.

Working for MSF helps. They are professional and have done this all many times before. They don’t employ underqualified staff and don’t mess around (well, not that much). The nagging sensation that what we are doing is fundamentally flawed is only minimally in the background when sleeping in tents on camp beds and dealing with all the day to day problems that crop up in the field, but as we get flown out and back in to the country again (admitted due to the rules of the government) this doubt comes to fore again.

Maybe it is just having the time to second guess and over-analysis events. When you are treated complicated malnourished children or planning sanitation for a camp your country of origin or skin colour does not seem to be important. But, away from the immediate need we need to think about these things. To check the actions we are taking as well meaning but privileged individuals and organisations are the appropriate things to do.

There is much talk now about how to decolonising global health. “Global health” itself, whilst better than “tropical medicine” is a ridiculous term. Just like global music, it is defined only as “other” than western healthcare. But the medicine I practised in Cape town is completely different to the medicine I practised in Eastern Sudan. Which will be different again to the medicine I will practice in Southern Sudan. Lumping all places that aren’t America, Europe or Australia together is itself part of the problem.

There is a solution to this somewhere. I not sure what it is but I am pretty sure, as a White British doctor still rooted in South of England I will not be the one to provide it. I just know that during the time it takes for my colleagues who live and work in these “other”- non-western areas to collectively find and define the healthcare that will improve things for their population, there are still going to be disasters and crises that occasionally need some people to get on planes and do the things that immediately need doing.


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