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Short Term Experiences in Global Health (STEGHs): Urgent Need for a Legal and Ethical Framework

Collection launched: Jun 17, 2019

Short Term Experiences in Global Health (STEGHs) are invaluable for opening the eyes of students from high-income countries to the often harsh realities of health and health care in poor countries. When properly conducted, STEGHs can do great good.

But the dark side is that STEGHs can provide a platform for activities that are unethical and in some cases criminal – such activities as practicing medicine without a license or performing surgical procedures without proper training or supervision. Improperly conducted STEGHs can weaken local institutions in host countries and undermine the credibility of local health professionals. They can reduce population health.

Here we present a Special Collection that examines STEGHs with particular emphasis on their ethical and legal framework. The collection is anchored by an analysis by Virginia Rowthorn and colleagues, and the theme is elaborated further in essays by Larry Gostin, Keith Martin, Michael Rozier and Andrea Vicini.

The take-home message from these five papers is unequivocal. STEGHs cannot allow or condone illegal or unethical activities by unqualified, untrained, unlicensed personnel. Local institutions and practitioners must without exception be full partners and collaborate in all STEGHs. All STEGHS must operate in full compliance with local laws and customs. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something badly. The rule of law must prevail.