Healthcare in Developing vs. Developed Countries

Instructor: Jennifer Tauziac

Jennifer has a master's degree and has taught bacclaureate level nursing.

This lesson will discuss, in general terms, a conventional medicine healthcare system in developing countries compared to developed countries. Limited resources in developing countries impacts conventional medicine.


Healthcare can be defined as the activities and treatments that help someone move towards health and away from sickness. Healthcare is more than medicine and doctors. Most developed countries depend on a conventional medicine healthcare model that uses doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other professionals to deliver medications and surgeries to help make people healthier. Naturopathic or holistic medicine is more focused on wellness and treating the whole person. A simple example to help illustrate this concept would be high blood pressure. A conventional medical doctor might prescribe a medication to lower blood pressure. A naturopathic healer may suggest diet and exercise changes or herbal remedies.

One of the biggest differences between developed and developing countries is resources, including money, infrastructure, people, education, and products. There is no universal definition of 'developing country', so this lesson will speak in generalities. In order to discuss healthcare, we will begin by defining that term.

With these concepts in mind, it is important to recognize that every country has a system of healthcare; some are more complicated than others. Many developed countries have both conventional and naturopathic medicines readily available. A developing country most likely has a naturopathic system instead of a conventional medical system. It would take a long time and lots of research to fully understand the healthcare of any country. For this lesson, we will be focusing our discussion on the practice of conventional medicine in developing countries compared to developed countries. I will give examples from my experiences providing conventional medicine healthcare in the United States and in resource-limited countries in Central America, South America, and Africa.

Stand of a traditional healer in a market in Ghana.


The first topic we will explore is infrastructure. This means the built environment and system processes for ideas, people, and products such as roads, transportation, communication methods, electricity, running water, sanitation, and buildings. In some developing countries, the large cities have many of these amenities, but the rural areas may have dirt roads, no internet, no available electricity without the use of a generator, and no running water. Simple tasks such as going to the grocery store or washing hands can be quite difficult. This has huge implications for healthcare. How do people clean scratches and cuts? How can someone be quickly transported to the hospital when he is having a heart attack? Where is the nearest hospital? Calling 9-1-1 is not an option. Perhaps it is a 3 hour ride by motorized canoe, as I experienced in South America. Clinics and doctors' offices may be just as difficult to find.


Healthcare providers may be difficult to recruit and retain in developing countries. Many providers are drawn to urban areas or places where they can have higher salaries and more modern conveniences. It is not uncommon for providers from developing countries to move to developed countries. This phenomenon is sometimes called brain drain. This can cause a shortage of healthcare professionals in developed countries. In Africa, I saw a hospital that was building its own school of nursing to draw nurses to its rural hospital. In that country, education was expensive. In order to attend school, students would agree to work one year within their country for every year they took courses. The hope was that they would choose to stay at the rural hospital where they had learned how to be a nurse. This would help keep the hospital staffed.

Something to keep in mind is that developing countries have a greater likelihood of having traditional healers than developed countries. A traditional healer is a general term that can be used for anyone who is considered a healer or healthcare provider who uses knowledge that has been passed down through generations of healers in a specific area. They may go by many names; for example, a shaman or a witch doctor. Their methods may or may not be considered scientifically valid. They may also be very spiritually connected to their culture. Typically, this person is the main 'general doctor' for an area. People may take their family to this person instead of conventional medical facilities such as clinics or hospitals.

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