Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature The BMJ Christmas 2018 Appeal

How volunteer doctors help the world’s most vulnerable patients, from Yemen to Ukraine, Bangladesh to Bethnal Green

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 29 November 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4993
  1. Jane Feinmann,
  2. freelance journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. jane{at}

The charity Doctors of the World brings healthcare to the most vulnerable people globally, including in the UK, which is why The BMJ has chosen it for its Christmas appeal this year, as Jane Feinmann writes. Please give generously

Doctors of the World provides essential healthcare to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Credit: Olivier Papegnies

The charity Doctors of the World works worldwide to empower the most vulnerable, and often forgotten, people to access healthcare.

In Lebanon, 20 miles east of Beirut, for example, it supports five primary healthcare centres and one mobile clinic in the Beqaa valley, home to many of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees who now reside in Lebanon (pictured).

In Yemen, where war has left 22 million men, women, and children at risk of starvation, Doctors of the World’s medical volunteers are helping in the three most afflicted regions.

And in Bangladesh, where an estimated 700 000 Rohingya people have fled from neighbouring Myanmar, it provides mental health support to the many refugees affected by violence and is training peer outreach workers in the camps.

As part of the global Médecins du Monde network, Doctors of the World delivers more than 350 projects like these in more than 80 countries through 3000 volunteers. It relies on individual donations to fund the long term care needed because of conflict in Gaza, forced migration along Pakistan’s border, or famine in Kenya.

“The exodus from Syria peaked two years ago but our volunteers are still providing much needed medical help throughout Europe, from Bulgaria and Croatia through Italy and in the disestablished camp in Calais,” Peter Gough, an NHS GP in Bedfordshire and a trustee of Doctors of the World, tells The BMJ.

More UK clinics

And the charity’s doctors are also in demand in the UK. Thousands of people, including undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, and survivors of human trafficking who are being wrongly denied NHS healthcare turn instead to Doctors of the World.

Last year, the charity’s volunteer doctors provided free medical care, advice, and advocacy for 1617 people in the UK, including patients with cancer, arrhythmia, and chest pain; those who needed drugs for chronic conditions; and pregnant women.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Gough says.

This year The BMJ’s Christmas appeal will help support the charity’s work worldwide as well as help it to extend its network of clinics in the UK. In 2019 it plans to move its only permanent clinic, in Bethnal Green in east London, to larger premises in Stratford and to open a new clinic in Birmingham, such is the demand for its services.

“The people we see are long term members of our communities. Most are working and have been living in the UK for many years,” says Gough.

The charity also advocates on behalf of seriously ill patients and women who have just given birth, who are entitled to care. In May, its campaign forced the UK government to suspend controversial arrangements under which the NHS shared patients’ details with the Home Office to trace people it suspected had breached immigration rules.

“This shameful arrangement has ended,” says Gough. “Now we need the funds to enable our volunteers to reassure vulnerable people and provide support in getting the help they need.”

Doctors of the World’s volunteers need your support: please give generously

  • £135 buys a medical backpack for a mobile medic working across Europe

  • £240 can help 300 mothers in Yemen test their children for malnutrition

  • £325 could pay for five vulnerable people to see a volunteer doctor at a UK clinic

Donate online:

Donate by phone: 020 7167 5789

Registered charity number 1067406


  • Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

  • Competing interests: I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare.

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