Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) help people worldwide where the need is greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care. MSF teams have tended to patients, assisted in births, and provided access to medical care for hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise have gone without care.
They are not politically aligned in any way, remaining neutral, independent and impartial – a way of helping to protect their medical personnel as well as giving them access to areas that partisan groups would be unable to.
MSF’s specificity is providing medical humanitarian aid to people in the acute phase of a crisis, but they also consider certain diseases medical emergencies—HIV/AIDS, TB, in particular, as well as malnutrition. They train medical staff within the host country, many of whom go on to participate in MSF’s international projects around the world.
Médecins Sans Frontières works in some of the poorest, most dangerous places on earth, including Aleppo, Yemen, Occupied Palestine, Haiti, Somalia and many many more. They go where other humanitarian workers dare not go, focussing on bringing healthcare to those in most critical need and bearing witness to humanitarian disasters, human rights atrocities, and neglect in areas that rarely receive international attention.
While on the ground, the teams are in constant dialogue with local authorities, warring parties, and other aid agencies in an attempt to reinforce the organization’s operational independence and to facilitate the delivery of the best possible medical care for patients and their communities.
But at times, MSF may speak out publicly in an effort to bring a forgotten crisis into view, alert the public to abuses occurring beyond the headlines, criticize the inadequacies of the aid system, challenge the diversion of humanitarian aid for political interests, or call out policies that restrict access to medical care or essential medicines.
From Rwanda to Srebrenica, and Chechnya to Ethiopia, MSF has born witness to tragedy and spoken out against it. Their work is essential.
MSF encounter many challenges in the course of their work; access to appropriate medications, vaccines, and therapeutic foods to treat malnutrition can be difficult, policies, pricing, and politics can pose barriers for procuring vital medical supplies, and outdated diagnostics and treatments make medical assistance in resource challenged settings difficult and expensive.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge is security – particularly during the last 10 years, there has been a blurring of humanitarian aid and military interventions, where humanitarian aid workers have been directly targeted making it more difficult for them to work in certain high risk areas.
Although MSF works hard to minimize risk of deliberate targeting by talking to all sides in a conflict, asserting and reasserting their independence and impartiality, along with their medical ethics, they do suffer fatalities in the course of their vital work.
Among the most severe incidents were the killing of three aid workers in Somalia in January 2008, and two others in December 2011, and the killing of five field workers in Afghanistan in 2004, which forced MSF to end operations there for five years. In October 2011, two aid workers were abducted from a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, and held for more than a year and a half inside Somalia, until their release was finally secured in July 2013.
There are lots of different ways you can support Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders. You can find details of how to help here.
Image by Debra Torrance
Written by Victoria Pearson