Skip to main content
Log in

Seven Sins of Humanitarian Medicine

  • Published:
World Journal of Surgery Aims and scope Submit manuscript


The need for humanitarian assistance throughout the world is almost unlimited. Surgeons who go on humanitarian missions are definitely engaged in a noble cause. However, not infrequently, despite the best of intentions, errors are made in attempting to help others. The following are seven areas of concern: 1. Leaving a mess behind. 2. Failing to match technology to local needs and abilities. 3. Failing of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) to cooperate and help each other, and and accept help from military organizations. 4. Failing to have a follow-up plan. 5. Allowing politics, training, or other distracting goals to trump service, while representing the mission as “service”. 6. Going where we are not wanted, or needed and/or being poor guests. 7. Doing the right thing for the wrong reason. The goal of this report is to discuss these potential problems, with ideas presented about how we might do humanitarian missions more effectively.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Accessed 26 Mar 2009

  2. Accessed 26 Mar 2009

  3. Minken SL, Colgan R, Barish RA, Doyle J, Brown PR, Welling DR (2008) Waging peace: a medical military mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Surg Rounds 31:128–135

    Google Scholar 

  4. Wolfberg AJ (2006) Volunteering overseas: lessons from surgical brigades. N Engl J Med 354:443–445

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Lumley JSP, Ryan JM, Baxter PJ, Kirby N (1996) Handbook of the medical care of catastrophes. Royal Society of Medicine Press Limited, London, p 37

    Google Scholar 

  6. Accessed 20 April 2009

  7. Davis KD, Douglas T, Kuncir E (2009) Pacific Partnership 2008: U.S. Navy Fellow provide humanitarian assistance in Southeast Asia. Bull Am Coll Surg 94:14–23

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Accessed 20 April 2009

  9. Wilson S (2009) Obama closes summit, vows broader engagement with Latin America. Washington Post, April 20:A6

  10. Accessed 20 May 2009

  11. Accessed 20 May 2009

  12. Accessed 20 April 2009

  13. Eliot TS (1964) Murder in the cathedral. In: Brooks C, Purser JT, Warren RF (eds) An approach to literature, 4th edn. Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, p 816

Download references


The authors wish to acknowledge the teaching, mentorship, and example of Drs. David C. Wherry, J. Leonel Villavicencio, Stanley L. Minken, and Arthur L. Trask, who helped in the formation of the ideas presented in this report.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to David R. Welling.

Additional information

The opinions and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect doctrine or opinions of the Uniformed Services University or the Department of Defense.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Welling, D.R., Ryan, J.M., Burris, D.G. et al. Seven Sins of Humanitarian Medicine. World J Surg 34, 466–470 (2010).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: