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The Ethics of Engaged Presence: A Framework for Health Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Development Work


  • Matthew R. Hunt,

  • Lisa Schwartz,

  • Christina Sinding,

  • Laurie Elit

  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared

Address for correspondence: Matthew Hunt, PT, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, McGill University, Hosmer House, Room 205, 3630 Promenade Sir William Osler, Montréal, Québec, Canada H3G 1Y5, Email:


In this article, we present an ethics framework for health practice in humanitarian and development work: the ethics of engaged presence. The ethics of engaged presence framework aims to articulate in a systematic fashion approaches and orientations that support the engagement of expatriate health care professionals in ways that align with diverse obligations and responsibilities, and promote respectful and effective action and relationships. Drawn from a range of sources, the framework provides a vocabulary and narrative structure for examining the moral dimensions of providing development or humanitarian health assistance to individuals and communities, and working with and alongside local and international actors. The elements also help minimize or avoid certain miscalculations and harms. Emphasis is placed on the shared humanity of those who provide and those who receive assistance, acknowledgement of limits and risks related to the contributions of expatriate health care professionals, and the importance of providing skillful and relevant assistance. These elements articulate a moral posture for expatriate health care professionals that contributes to orienting the practice of clinicians in ways that reflect respect, humility, and solidarity. Health care professionals whose understanding and actions are consistent with the ethics of engaged presence will be oriented toward introspection and reflective practice and toward developing, sustaining and promoting collaborative partnerships.