Kaleem Hawa, Oluwaseyi Owaseye, Tara Kedia, and Ashton Barnett-Vanes comment on unequal access to global health career training opportunities and announce a fundraising campaign to help support internships at WHO Headquarters for young health professionals from low and middle income countries.
Global health is a field in which thousands of interns work every year. Some may undertake an internship as part of their academic programme, others as a work placement. Irrespective of an intern’s professional background, these placements afford candidates the opportunity to boost their skill sets, prepare or launch their global health careers, and develop academic or experiential global health knowledge that may be invested back into their local health systems.
Curiously, whilst equitable access to health care is a core value of global health and universal health care, equitable access to internships in this field has received far less scrutiny. A report by the UN’s Joint Inspection Unit in 2009 using 2007 data found that United Nations internships (including those offered by the World Health Organization) were inaccessible to many, with almost 60% of candidates from a high-income country. Surveys conducted in 2011 and 2013 at World Health Organization Headquarters (WHO-HQ) in Geneva, Switzerland support this finding, with only a quarter of WHO-HQ interns coming from low- or middle- income countries (LMICs). In many cases, this inaccessibility stems in part from the financial barriers and costs of living associated with an unpaid position in an expensive, global city like Geneva.
Young health professionals from high disease-burden regions have fewer international training opportunities than their peers from lower-burden regions (Figure 1). In the South-East Asia (SEARO) and Africa (AFRO) regions, 81% of countries are defined as low- or lower-middle income. The unpaid status of these internship programs likely restrain such candidates from applying without self-funding or financial support. Perniciously, these countries have the highest health burdens (Figure 1).