An ELCA Global Mission program that matches U.S.-based health-care workers with hospitals associated with ELCA global companions was unveiled at the 2013 Churchwide Assembly in August.
Lutheran Global Health Volunteers will recruit people with credentials in a wide range of health fields. In the first phase of the program, volunteers will be matched with ELCA partners in three pilot countries: India, Liberia and Tanzania.
"Tanzania is a logical choice because of the size and scope of the church and its health system," said John Lunn, international coordinator for the program. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania provides more than 15 percent of the health-care services in that country and operates 21 hospitals and many dispensaries.
The program aims to help hospitals narrow a gap in personnel in recent years. In previous eras, churches and others provided many long-term mission personnel and grants to companion institutions that focused on inpatient curative care. But globally, scarce resources are moving away from expensive, institutionally based models toward lower-cost, community-based health care.
"When you want the best bang for your buck, you provide care within the community," said Lunn, an ELCA pastor, registered nurse and former missionary to India and Liberia. "In Tanzania, for example, clinical officers do a lot of care in health centers in many smaller villages. In parts of the world where [people] haven't been able to afford the [infrastructure], wards and hospital equipment, community care is the only option."
Yet hospitals are still an essential piece of the emerging community-based, primary health-care model. "There must be a place to go when people need to be hospitalized," Lunn said.
Like many global medical systems, the Tanzanian church's hospitals have worked hard to expand their funding sources and staff training programs.
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