A qualitative assessment of disease surveillance activities in a resource-limited environment: perceptions and opinions of volunteer staff working in Northern Uganda.
Annually, groups of health professionals from high-income countries are drawn to work in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) through timed engagements intended to improve the well-being of people in most disadvantaged communities. The existing evidence on understanding volunteer experience in LMICs often focuses on activities within the medical discipline; whereas little research has been conducted on the experiences of volunteers in other disciplines. This paper focuses on understanding veterinary and public health professional's experiences conducting disease surveillance work in Northern Uganda. Forty US-based health care professionals were recruited to complete multiple-choice and open-ended questions to understand prior and current experiences working in resource-limited settings. Responses were coded using NVivo 10®, qualitative analysis package. Of the 44 volunteers, 50% completed the questionnaire. Responses were largely positive towards surveillance activities; they reported personal and professional gains, new cultural experiences and mutual learning environment with local colleagues. Nevertheless, respondents highlighted challenges during various stages of program implementation - some difficulty with program logistics, inadequacy of preparation materials, in addition to concerns inherent to working in a resource-limited environment. This assessment suggests that international volunteer work could positively influence programmatic outcomes, personal experiences, furthering health organizational goals, often achieved in a limited time-frame. To maximize volunteer impact, these assessments are critical and suggest that volunteer and institutional capacities should be seriously considered when planning placement as it can influence programmatic decision-making, gauge training needs and volunteer readiness.