Remote Medical ClinicMissionaries are often exposed to health issues while working on the field that are not common in our own “home” counties. While I reckon you would have a hard time finding a missionary who has not at some point suffered from dysentery, there are many other health concerns that missionaries have the possibility of experiencing.

Member Care Media is a ministry of Trans World Radio that desires to prepare cross-cultural Christian workers to help them fulfil the Great Commission. Their web-site is full of some great resources dealing with:

  • Emotional Health
  • Leadership
  • Communications
  • Cross Cultural Issues
  • more …

A section that they want to add to their website is a new section on health issues face by missionaries, mostly geared towards people working in the out of the way places. They are wanting input from missionaries around the world with what topics should be included. Here is a statement that they sent me about it:

I’m trying to make a topic list that is truly relevant to the needs of those we are trying to help (missionaries). I thought I would ask for your thoughts on the subject. With all your contacts through YWAM, what health issues do you see as being of most concern to missionaries and expat Christian workers?

We are working with an international Christian health organization in developing the series, and they are fact checking and double checking the medical contents of the scripts. When done these features will be available as audio files, text transcripts, podcasts, etc.

From your perspective what health issues do you see as being of prime concern to yourselves, and to people you know … or for others you have contact with?

Any ideas? Suggestions? Other thoughts?

To help gather the best feedback I can for this great new series on health I wanted to put the questions out to as many people as possible.

I would really appreciate you taking the time to fill out your thoughts, questions, ideas, and suggestions in the comments below. Let’s do what we can to make this a resource that can really serve missionaries on the field …

Photo via World Bank Photo Collection

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12 Responses to What Health Issues do Missionaries Face?

  1. justindlong says:

    I would probably start (as a researcher) by slotting things into categories. I assume you are meaning here physical diseases. Speculating about such a category list, I come up with the following (which can obviously be improved):
    1. Minor ailments (things every missionary faces – like the dysentery thing)
    2. Things that might seem to be serious but in fact are common where you are, and there are typical remedies (e.g. flus?)
    3. Things that are actually rather serious (e.g. dengue fever? malaria?) but that the region prepares for
    4. Things that are very serious and will require hospital time, could be fatal or could remove you from the field (e.g. cancers?)
    5. What to do about likely-terminal illnesses

  2. Belinda Chaplin says:

    Hi Bill. I found out about 3 years ago that I have a thyroid issue, (I am hypothyroid, and need to take replacement hormone) Since I found out about it, I have discovered quite a lot of other missionaries with this issue. It is a hidden problem around the world, not just amongst missionaries, but I thought it was just tiredness from overwork, stress, anemia, and assumed I was burning out… and it was my thyroid! So, it is definitely something that would be a good idea for them to deal with… as I don’t think I am the only one… thanks for doing this!

  3. justindlong says:

    Belinda Chaplin Definitely something to watch out for. Not to instill fear, but my mother passed away due to complications with hyperthyrodism–they caught it way too late.

  4. Dave Lewis says:

    Liver fluke
    Guinea worm/mango worm/other similar
    Giardia

  5. Belinda Chaplin says:

    justindlong Belinda Chaplin Sorry to hear about your mom Justin. That must have been hard. I think this is something that unfortunately many people don’t know about – both hyper and hypo… and people don’t know to look out for the symptoms and get the hormone checked (I certainly didn’t – and only found out by accident).

  6. Rhianon Walls says:

    in a tropical country I have had to deal with
    1.various skin issuesI never had at home. Ringworm, rashes, heat rash issues.
    2. also had to deal with menopuase on the field (horrible) ,
    3. aombic dysentery, (parasite) and other friends have had parasites undiagnosed for long periods and continue to struggle with effects on their body systems.

  7. Totheforgotten says:

    Pregnancy and birth on the field

  8. lydiagrace says:

    One thing is that sometimes there is a need to be in hospital, for surgeries or what not and there is a difficult time with the standard of care. That’s something I’ve dealt wtih in two different countries. One, the standard of care was really low but I spoke the host country language so that helped. The second one I just moved to the country and language is still in progress. I almost died from an allergic reaction to their medication they gave me for swelling when I needed to have emergency wrist surgery.

  9. Anonymous500 says:

    Some missionaries I talked to had nervous breakdowns in the field because of conflict between team-mates/leaders etc.  Even missionaries from the 1950’s etc. as well as recent ones. Others had such severe health breakdowns that they never recovered.  Personality of people going as missionaries need to be assessed. Many are hardy and can go through physical and emotional things. Others are frail….or have issues in their lives needing to be resolved before going.  People going on missions have a heart for broken people out in other countries. They are gung ho to help others. But they themselves might have either delicate disposition or weak genetic makeup, etc. Some can handle much stress, illness etc. Others can’t.  AND when missionaries want to go home, mission agencies need to let them go. One short term mission agency won’t allow people to go home when team-mates cannot handle stress. Then when dangerous things happen, mission agency won’t cover medically. I recently heard that many missionaries that come home ill feel dumped by the mission agency without help. Agency won’t take responsibility for what happened.  I cannot remember why people were talking about this (what specific incident) but this kind of thing is more common than not.  Agencies need to be made accountable just as corporations, governments, etc. are made accountable.

  10. justindlong says:

    Belinda Chaplin Yes they thought at the time it was a mild heart arythmia (sp?) and were treating it as that…

  11. Jtjf_1 says:

    Dentistry was a big one. Usually you had health insurance for the big things but we found finding a good dentist that you could trust was a hard one. Even when I spoke the language.The best thing I found was to have a link with a doctor back home that you can bounce ideas off of. I had a broken collar bone and the doctors wanted to do surgery I asked my doc at home and he said to let it heal (after I emailed X-rays) saved us a lot of money like 3 months living expesnses

  12. Jim says:

    I’m biased because this is an area of personal experience and study, but I’d have to include neurological diseases such as epilepsy and migraine and headache disorders.  Like thyroid issues, they are things that can often by solved but the treatment is often not available.  Also, doctors are not sufficiently trained, particularly in areas like this where science has advanced so far in the past 10 to 20 years.
    The UN listed migraine as one of the top 20 disabilities worldwide.  They can be disabling – even the forms of migraine that have no headache at all.  Knowing the estimated percentages worldwide, there’s no doubt that many missionaries are suffering with migraine and other so-called “invisible” illnesses (thyroid issues can be included).

    One of the factors when it comes to “invisible” illnesses is that there are very different cultural expectations, depending on where you are.  When you don’t “look sick”, and you’re expected to do this that and the other thing by nationals and fellow missionaries, the challenges can be complex.

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