Doctors without Borders, known internationally as Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) kicks off our Earth Week series of “earth heroes.” Health and human well-being are guiding principles for a sustainable world. That’s the mission and mantra of MSF.
MSF is an international, independent medical humanitarian organization that deals with the medical consequences of economic, social, and political crises.
You may never witness MSF firsthand on the ground, but you can see through the eyes –and experiences– of thousands of doctors, nurses, midwives, sanitation and water experts, mental health workers, field managers and others who make up the MSF “army” that travels to places most people wouldn’t venture to offer medical relief in response to war, disaster and the global refugee crisis. Many of the medical professionals take leave of absence from their full-time positions for a stint in the field with MSF. It’s life-altering work — and it also can be perilous.
MSF is on hand for simmering crises, the aftermath of deadly attacks by militias, refugee camps where millions are trapped, families fleeing homeland violence or religious persecution. Worldwide, a “record 68.5 million people have been forced from home by violence or persecution worldwide.” Today that figure is probably higher, given the crisis in Venezuela and the recent cyclone in Mozambique and Malawi.
You’ve heard of these places, but they may seem worlds away – South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Central America.
MSF has 33,000 staff working in 77 countries – birthing babies (plus pre- and post-natal care), handling epidemics (cholera, ebola), providing surgical care for wound and burn victims, therapeutic feeding for malnourished babies and kids, search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean, mental health assistance for refugee children.
Here’s how they assess their priorities:
“MSF programs target populations with the greatest medical needs: our patients are children under the age of five, women without access to maternal health care, people wounded in or fleeing conflict, and others in urgent need of primary health or specialized medical care.”
How do they do it ?
MSF’s guiding principles: remain independent, stay neutral and impartial, take no government funds. Be on site to bear witness to what is happening, remain transparent and accountable
In practical terms, how do they do it?
- MSF has a phenomenal organizational structure – combined with extraordinary human resources, international staff and on-the-ground local personnel.
- Their emergency preparedness is awesome: warehouses fully stocked to pack up and mobilize quickly, ready to create tent medical facilities and all that is needed for medical care.
- They’re pros on field expertise: Procedural manuals on how to build a hospital (onsite), create a secure pharmacy, deal with an emergency or disaster.
- They avoid duplicating existing in-country services.
- They count on having “national staff” (locals who are invaluable in native languages and a wide range of skills) and an “international staff,” ready to travel wherever they’re needed.
“We have a passion for bringing relief,” says Donna Canali, a medical coordinator from San Francisco who’s been on 13 assignments with MSF, and is touring the US as a Voice from the Field to share her experiences in Sudan, Nigeria and elsewhere. That’s exactly what they do.
Here’s a snapshot of what MSF achieved in 2017 from their annual report:
- 10,648,300 outpatient consultations
- 288,900 births, including cesarean sections
- 2,520,600 cases of malaria treated
- 749,000 patients admitted for treatment
- 110,000 major surgeries
It exemplifies why MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.
Learn more about Doctors without Borders — join the staff, be a volunteer, start a student chapter at your college, make a donation. You can help save lives.