Are Medical Brigades Safe? Here’s What You Need to Know

Jun 26, 2024 9:37:37 AM | Medical Brigades Are Medical Brigades Safe? Here’s What You Need to Know

Learn how Global Brigades is setting a new standard for Medical Brigade safety with their comprehensive risk assessments, training, and emergency procedures.

If you’re thinking about joining a Medical Brigade, it’s natural to wonder about the safety of the program. At Global Medical Brigades, the well-being of our volunteers is a top priority, and we’re committed to providing a secure, supportive environment for everyone involved.

The safety standards at Global Medical Brigades go above and beyond what you typically see at most international volunteering programs. To protect our volunteers, staff, and partner communities, we have contingencies in place that cover even remote scenarios. 

Ongoing Safety Measures

What safety measures are in place for volunteers on Medical Brigades? Ongoing safety measures at Medical Brigades include risk assessments, updated emergency protocols, and continuous monitoring of conditions in program countries and partner communities.

We won’t send volunteers or our staff into unsafe environments, and that results from robust, ongoing assessment and monitoring in program countries.

Here’s what those specifics often look like.

Risk Assessments

Much like international travel overall, participating in an international Medical Brigade does come with some risks. Exposure to political instability, illness, environmental hazards, and travel-related accidents are all risks involved in a Medical Brigade. 

Risk assessments are one way to ensure we’re prepared with contingency plans for any and all potential risks in our program countries. Our in-country teams evaluate things like current political situations, environmental hazards, and health-related concerns before welcoming volunteers. 

Those assessments are supported by ongoing reporting and information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), the U.S. State Department, and local U.S. Embassies. As members of OSAC, we receive travel safety and security updates that inform decisions about our operations.

Our teams also regularly evaluate the safety of lodging facilities and transportation providers as part of a volunteer’s experience on the program. This helps us identify providers that meet our requirements and mitigates potential hazards so that we know our programs meet high standards for safety and security.

On-the-ground assessments mean we have a complete picture of each local community based on real information and analysis provided by trusted sources in each country. It’s important for us and our volunteers to avoid assuming a community is dangerous based on what they read about a country overall. 

Our medical clinics typically operate in rural communities far from major cities, where crime may be more prevalent. This is purposeful and part of our holistic model. Government resources are often limited in rural areas, and the presence of a mobile medical clinics, staffed with local and foreign volunteers, can make a tremendous impact.  

Staff Training

Our in-country staff is well-equipped to handle any incidents that may arise on a brigade. Before each brigade season, all of our staff undergo comprehensive crisis and safety training to prepare them for potential hazards, including concerns that may arise from risk assessments.

They’re also required to participate in first aid workshops and training on appropriate responses to mental health-related incidents. It’s important for us to assure our volunteers that they’re joining a safe and supportive environment.

Local Partnerships

Our partner communities are essential to not only the sustainability of our work but also to the safety of our volunteers. Our in-country teams work with local law enforcement and government officials on contingency plans for emergency incidents based on up-to-date risk assessments.

Each country office also maintains contact with the U.S. Embassy for up-to-date safety advisories. All volunteers are registered with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so that American officials are aware of volunteers working abroad. This allows State Department officials to provide support and resources if they’re ever needed.

On-Site Safety

In addition to our ongoing safety measures, each site has additional layers of safety and security supporting volunteer activity.

Staff Support 

Our volunteers are never alone. Each group is supported by a team of Global Brigades staff, including a brigade coordinator, translators, drivers, and healthcare professionals for the duration of the brigade.

From the moment volunteers arrive at the airport until their return flight home, our staff is present to ensure a safe experience. This level of support ensures that needs are addressed promptly, allowing volunteers to focus less on the “what-if” scenarios and more on the worthwhile experiences behind each brigade.

Transportation and Accommodation

All volunteers stay at secure and vetted lodging facilities, ensuring a safe and comfortable environment over the course of each brigade. As we’ve already mentioned, our staff is with our volunteers 24/7, including at the lodging facility.

For transportation, we partner with reputable, vetted transportation providers that meet the strict standards and policies we’ve set to transport passengers. All vendors must comply with local laws and regulations related to transportation safety with vehicles in excellent working condition. 

They must also be established in their field. Volunteers will never be in a vehicle with an inexperienced driver or transportation service with little experience in the business of transporting passengers. 

In Spanish-speaking countries throughout Central America, like Honduras, Panama, and Guatemala, for example, all drivers have a license that qualifies them to drive volunteer buses. At our sites in Honduras, these licenses are required by the Honduran government.

Health and Well-Being

Our healthcare initiatives and medical programs are at the heart of our work within our partner communities, but we can’t do that without also ensuring the well-being of volunteers who support that work. 

Each site has dedicated, on-call doctors ready to respond to any physical or mental health concerns that may arise. These on-site medical professionals are typically our first response to more common illnesses, including cases where volunteers forgot to pack necessary medications.

For more urgent cases, we arrange transport to local clinics or hospitals with brigade staff. In severe cases, we can also arrange communication or transport to family back home or by volunteer request.

In most cases, health-related emergencies are covered by the travel insurance policy provided by Core Travel Insurance, which each volunteer is automatically enrolled in for the duration of their program. 

Health-related safeguards may differ somewhat by site regarding where volunteers would receive treatment, but we maintain relationships with local providers in all program countries. We want your experience to be seamless, but if you need it, help is always there.

In Case of an Emergency

No matter how many layers are in place to ensure a brigade is incident-free, things can happen that require us to initiate our emergency procedures. This includes natural disasters, accidents, travel disruptions, and mental health-related incidents.

We’re prepared to handle any threats to the health and safety of our community health workers and volunteers. We want you to feel supported knowing that you’re working with an organization that prioritizes your safety and well-being, both physical and mental.

Basic Emergency Procedures 

Our comprehensive protocols cover everything from medical emergencies to political unrest. These protocols differ country by country based on the information we gather at each site as well as local infrastructure and resources. 

Our in-country teams analyze, assess, and train staff on response protocols on an ongoing basis. This includes mock crisis scenarios that ensure our staff are well-prepared to handle real emergencies. 

Crisis Management 

Our crisis management systems ensure a swift and effective response to any situation that requires it. These systems include local and U.S.-based crisis personnel ready to respond 24/7, plus a third-party crisis management provider we keep on retainer. 

This partnership allows us to deliver comprehensive support during more complex situations that require expert guidance and resources. 

Evacuation Plans

At Global Brigades, we maintain up-to-date evacuation plans for all of our programs, ensuring a swift and coordinated response in the case of an emergency. These plans include coordination with the U.S. Embassy and local authorities to facilitate efficient evacuations.

Our in-house travel team members are equipped to make the necessary last-minute arrangements for airfare and alternative transport to ensure volunteers can be quickly relocated if needed.

The Bottom Line

There are always risks involved with volunteering internationally, but the plans we’ve put into place at Global Brigades to mitigate those risks are extremely comprehensive and responsive.

We prioritize the safety and well-being of our volunteers so that you can focus on making a meaningful impact

Are you a premed or medical school student ready to partner with us or start a Medical Brigades chapter? Learn more about our impact on global health and joining Global Medical Brigades


Written By: Alexa