Students can make a difference in developing world
"When I grow up, I want to be a doctor so I can help people."
Every year, many hundreds of Australians - among them young doctors and medical students - travel to the third world to "help people". But how can you help a situation you don't understand?
Asha Patel, a fifth-year medical student at the University of Adelaide, is among a number of Adelaide students who has spent time working in hospitals in the third world. She is also the Convener of the upcoming third annual Australian Medical Students Association (AMSA) Developing World Conference, organised by medical students for medical students, which will be held at the University of Adelaide later this year.
The Developing World Conference was established in 2005 to bring medical students together to discuss the broader issues relevant to global health. It is an event that helps medical students to learn about third world health.
"Problems in the third world are as complex as they are deep. There is an enormous matrix of social, political and economic factors that cause, contribute and perpetuate problems in the third world," Asha said.
"As many young doctors and medical students begin to realise this, they begin to lose hope.
"They start to think they'll never understand these issues because they don't even know where to begin learning about them."
That's where the conference comes in. For more than a year, a committee of about 30 Adelaide and Flinders medical students has been working hard to organise the conference in Adelaide, to be held from 28 June to 1 July.
With 310 medical students from across Australia and New Zealand expected to attend, this year's conference promises to be the biggest one yet.
The conference will feature local, interstate and international speakers working in the fields of public health, economics, history, politics, engineering, human rights, bioethics, law and, of course, medicine.
"The aim is to look at international health from a holistic point of view - to get the bigger picture through case studies, lectures, workshops, and debates. This year's debates will explore ethical issues in third world health," Asha said.
The first debate, "Is something better than nothing?", will examine the ethics of sending second-class equipment to the third world, while the second debate will examine the ethics of pharmaceutical companies in the third world. Delegates will be presented with two opposing views, given the time to ask questions, and then left to make up their own minds.
Dr Rowan Gillies, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders) will deliver a keynote address at the conference. Apart from heading the leading medical and humanitarian organisation, Dr Gillies has also been an MSF field volunteer in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Ivory Coast. He will present some valuable insights into humanitarian work and the inner workings of the world's leading independent humanitarian organisation for medical aid.
Delegates will also be able to discuss their own overseas trips.
"Every year, hundreds of Australian medical students undertake an overseas elective where they try to help the people they see. However, because they lack experience, these student trips are often not as effective as they could be," Asha said.
"The conference will explore the variety of ways that medical students can plan their trips, so that they can contribute to their hosts, and give real, sustainable help."
Registration for the conference opened on 28 March. For more information about the conference, visit: www.amsa.org.au/dwc2007