Doctors Without Borders is perhaps one of the better known health-focused organizations in the world. Although not everyone knows the organization’s official name, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
MSF was founded by doctors and journalists in France in 1971 as an international medical humanitarian organization. Today, the organization provides assistance in over 60 countries and operates offices in 19 countries, including the United States. The people served by the organization are those “whose survival is threathened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care, or natural disasters.”
The first large-scale medical program MSF operated was during the refugee crisis sparked when Cambodians fled the Khmer Rouge in 1975. The organization has witnessed many of the most infamous humanitarian and medical crises in the decades since, including: war in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Bosnia; famine in Ethiopia, Somalia, Southern Sudan and North Korea; armed conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua; civil wars in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Liberia and Somalia; the 1988 Armenian earthquake; the flood of Kurdish refugees out of Northern Iraq; the Rwandan genocide; the global HIV/AIDS pandemic; and the crisis in Darfur.
In 1999 MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its decades of humanitarian medical work. MSF’s approach is to remain neutral in the countries in which it does work. This means not taking sides in armed conflicts, providing care solely on the basis of what is needed and pushing for increased independent access to conflict victims (as prescribed by international humanitarian laws). According to the organization’s own website, it does occasionally speak out publicly to bring attention to forgotten crises, highlight unreported abuses, call out diversions of humanitarian aid for other purposes, criticize how inadequate the aid system is, and point to policies that are restricting medical care access.
The organization has close to 27,000 nurses, doctors, logisticians, water-and-sanitation experts, administrators, and other professionals posted around the world on any given day.
From the organization’s posts on the front lines of medical and humanitarian crises around the world, MSF is in a unique position to call other organizations to task. In April, for example, MSF issued a call to the global vaccine community to bring the price of new vaccines down. The organization warned that high vaccine prices put developing countries at risk of not being able to afford to vaccinate their children.
MSF’s work in such a large number of nations, many of them the world’s poorest, makes them a good resource on medical topics as well. The organization’s website includes an interactive map that summarizes the medical challenges, humanitarian issues, and political realities faced in specific countries, along with what MSF’s projects have focused on in those regions.
– Liza Casabona