Many of the healthcare issues relating to humanitarian aid are similar to volunteering although the risks will often relate to the type of crisis situation they are attending.

Volunteers working in West Africa in an Ebola care centre

Wars, civil unrest, infectious disease epidemics, droughts, famine, earthquakes and tsunamis all can lead to humanitarian disasters.

  • Aid workers may go out at short notice, Many are 'regulars' and have had previous experience of these, often very stressful, situations.

  • They normally volunteer through experienced organisations such as The Red Cross, Save the Children Oxfam or Medecins-sans-Frontieres .

  • Sometimes individuals make their rapid response own arrangements and this risks being very ill prepared for what they will encounter and they end up 'getting in the way' or needing aid themselves.

Volunteer selection

Careful selection of people carrying out this type of work is essential and organisations familiar with the problems associated humanitarian aid work and protracted overseas visits usually have rigorous procedures to select suitable candidates in an effort to avoid problems for the individual, other workers, and the host country where local emergency services are already challenged.

  • This advance planning means that problems can often be anticipated and extra support provided either before the aid workers departure or when these workers arrive at their posting. Problems and/or disappointments can arise when these sort of preparations are overlooked or not carried out in a responsible manner.

  • It must be part of the recruitment process to ensure volunteers have no history of physical, sexual or child abuse

  • Security and health preparation of humanitarian workers is essential as these risks can be considerable in such environments.


It can be complicated and costly to send volunteers abroad into crisis situations. This was highlighted by the serious Ebola haemorrhagic fever outbreak in West Africa in 2014

Travel insurance, as with all forms of overseas travel is essential for volunteers but this is rarely provided by the sending organisation. It should cover medical repatriation in the event of serious illness or accidents.