Doctors without Borders

In a world marked by conflicts, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises, the presence of organizations like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is crucial for providing vital medical care to those who need it most. MSF has become a beacon of hope for millions of people worldwide. They have managed to offer impartial and independent medical assistance in some of the most remote and dangerous places on the planet.


It all began during the Nigerian Civil War that took place between 1967 and 1970. During that tragic time, the Nigerian army formed a blockade around the southeastern region of the nation, Biafra.

At that time, France was one of the only major countries supporting the Biafrans, and the conditions within the blockade were unknown to the world.

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Several French doctors volunteered from the Red Cross to work in hospitals and feeding centers.

Upon entering the country, the volunteers, along with Biafran health workers and hospitals, were subjected to attacks by the Nigerian Army and witnessed the murder and starvation of civilians at the hands of the blockade forces.

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Doctors criticized the Nigerian government and the Red Cross for their behavior.

As a consequence, the doctors concluded that a new aid organization was necessary that would ignore political/religious borders and prioritize the well-being of survivors.

At the same time, Raymond Borel, who was the editor-in-chief of TONUS (a French medical journal), had created a group called Secours Médical Français (“French Medical Relief”). This group was created in response to the 1970 Bhola cyclone.

The Bhola cyclone was a devastating tropical cyclone that hit former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the state of West Bengal, India, on November 13, 1970.

It was the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded and one of the most destructive humanitarian disasters in modern times. It is estimated that up to 500,000 people lost their lives in the storm.

On December 22, 1971, the two groups merged to form Doctors Without Borders.

How it works

It is necessary to understand how the organization works.

MSF works in a wide range of contexts. They operate in conflict zones, areas affected by natural disasters, and epidemics.

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They stand out for their rapid response capability to humanitarian emergencies. Their medical teams are prepared to deploy within hours in case of natural disasters, disease outbreaks, or displacement crises, providing vital medical care when and where it is most needed.

Their medical teams are deployed in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe.

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In Africa, MSF has responded to disease outbreaks such as Ebola, malaria, and meningitis, as well as armed conflicts in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Nigeria.

In Asia, the organization has provided medical assistance in areas devastated by tsunamis, earthquakes, and conflicts.

In Latin America, they have provided medical care to migrants and refugees in transit, as well as to communities affected by violence and natural disasters in countries like Honduras and Venezuela.

Moreover, they have been instrumental in the fight against deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

The organization has established treatment and prevention programs in areas where these diseases are endemic, providing medicines, tests, and medical care that save lives.

In Defense of Human Rights

The organization consistently advocates for the respect of human rights and equitable access to healthcare. For this reason, they denounce human rights violations affecting the health and well-being of communities, and they pressure governments and international actors to take concrete actions to address these injustices.

The organization not only provides vital medical care but also acts as an advocate for people whose rights are being violated.

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Their teams in the field are firsthand witnesses to atrocities such as sexual violence, forced displacement, restricted access to healthcare, and attacks against medical and civilian facilities. MSF does not hesitate to publicly denounce these violations and to press those responsible for accountability.

In addition to denouncing human rights violations, they advocate for justice and accountability.

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The organization works in collaboration with other NGOs, human rights bodies, and governments to investigate and document cases of abuse and crimes against humanity.

By demanding accountability for these acts, they seek to ensure that affected communities receive justice and reparation.

They are an organization that strives to reach the most marginalized and excluded populations, including refugees, internally displaced persons, ethnic minorities, and indigenous communities.

Acknowledging that these groups are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations, the organization prioritizes their care and defends their right to live with dignity and security.

In summary, the defense of human rights is an integral part of MSF’s work worldwide.

By denouncing human rights violations, promoting justice, and advocating for equitable access to healthcare, the organization seeks to protect the most vulnerable populations and build a more just and humane world for all.

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The importance of MSF lies in its unwavering commitment to the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.

These core values ​​guide all of its operations, allowing them to reach the most vulnerable communities without discrimination or political bias.

In a world divided by armed conflicts and natural disasters, they provide essential medical care without taking sides in the conflicts.

Flexibility and rapid responsiveness are other distinctive features of MSF.

Equipped with specialized medical equipment and highly trained personnel, MSF teams can deploy within hours in case of emergencies, bringing critical medical care to those who desperately need it.

Whether in the midst of armed conflict, an epidemic of infectious diseases, or a humanitarian crisis caused by natural disasters, MSF is there to provide relief and hope to those facing adversity.


MSF’s first mission was to the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, where an earthquake in 1972 had destroyed most of the city and killed between 10,000 and 30,000 people.

The organization arrived just three days after the Red Cross had established a relief mission.

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On September 18 and 19, 1974, Hurricane Fifi-Orlene caused massive floods in Honduras and killed thousands of people, and MSF established its first long-term medical aid mission.

Later, between 1975 and 1979, after the fall of South Vietnam to North Vietnam, millions of Cambodians fled to Thailand to avoid the Khmer Rouge. In response, the first missions were organized in refugee camps in Thailand.

When Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia in 1989, MSF initiated long-term aid missions to help survivors of mass killings and rebuild the country’s health system.

MSF spent nine years (1976-1984) assisting surgeries in hospitals in various cities in Lebanon, during the Lebanese Civil War, and established a reputation for its neutrality and willingness to work under fire.

They not only offered treatment to war-wounded but also distributed medical supplies and provided psychological care to people traumatized by violence and displacement.

MSF has responded to situations of violence and armed conflict in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, and Honduras.

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In Colombia, the work they do is extensive.

Due to the dispute between different armed groups in Colombia, thousands of people have suffered violent attacks, while entire communities have been displaced or have been living confined in their homes for months.

Likewise, Colombia has received a massive number of migrants from Venezuela.

They are always working on sexual and reproductive health issues to ensure safe abortion for women who need it.

In Venezuela, they have provided medical assistance amid the humanitarian and economic crisis, providing care to patients with chronic diseases and medical emergencies.

The work focuses on meeting the healthcare needs of vulnerable populations. The organization manages clinics and mobile medical units to reach communities where access to healthcare is

limited or nonexistent.

In Mexico, they provide medical care to migrants and refugees fleeing violence in Central America and have denounced human rights violations on the migration route.

In Mexico City, they have a comprehensive care center where they provide specialized multidisciplinary care to migrants, refugees, and Mexicans who have been victims of extreme violence and torture.

In Haiti, since the 2010 earthquake, they have been very active. They have responded to cholera outbreaks and other diseases.

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In addition to this, they provide free and quality medical care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in health centers in Port-au-Prince, the South department, and Artibonite.

They provide sexual and reproductive care, as well as care for trauma victims and victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

The organization has five operational centers: in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Geneva, as well as 14 country offices, located in Europe, the United States, Japan, and Australia, which support the main centers.

With a network of over 35,000 medical, logistical, and support professionals in more than 70 countries, they work tirelessly to save lives and alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable communities.

In 2021, the group was active in 70 countries with more than 43,000 employees, mostly doctors, nurses, and other local medical professionals, logistics experts, engineers, and water and sanitation administrators.


Although they have done incredible work, they have faced moments of crisis. Over the years, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has faced a series of challenges and issues in its humanitarian work.

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In many places where they have had access to affected populations, it can be hindered by various factors, such as armed conflicts, government restrictions, logistical barriers, or lack of security.

These limitations can make it difficult to deliver humanitarian aid and provide medical services to those who need it most.

In contexts of armed conflict, they have had to negotiate with a variety of armed actors to ensure safe access to affected populations and the protection of their staff and facilities.

Often, workers face significant risks in the field, including armed attacks, kidnappings, equipment theft, and other hazards related to the environment in which they operate.

Staff safety is a constant concern, and MSF works to minimize risks and ensure the protection of its personnel in dangerous situations.

We must consider that they often respond to outbreaks of epidemic diseases, such as Ebola, cholera, and malaria. In these cases, MSF staff face additional health and safety risks while working to contain the spread of diseases and provide treatment to those affected.

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Despite these challenges, MSF continues to work tirelessly to provide vital medical care to the world’s most vulnerable communities and to advocate for greater access to healthcare and respect for human rights.

Their commitment to the principles of impartiality, neutrality, and independence remains central to their global humanitarian work.

Moments of Crisis

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has made the decision to withdraw from countries or regions on several occasions throughout its history due to a variety of reasons, which may include lack of security for its personnel, government restrictions, logistical problems, or changes in the humanitarian situation. Some of these moments have been:

**Somalia (1993): They withdrew from Somalia after the UN authorized a military intervention to ensure the distribution of aid to famine victims amid the conflict. Just a year later, their outcry was the opposite, one against the humanitarian principle of neutrality.

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**Afghanistan (January 2022): MSF announced the suspension of its medical operations in Afghanistan after the Taliban authorities took control of the country and could not guarantee the safety of personnel and access to vulnerable populations.

**South Sudan (July 2016): MSF withdrew some of its international staff from South Sudan after an attack on one of its clinics in the Unity state. The attack resulted in the death of one MSF worker and led the organization to review its ability to operate safely in the country.

**Somalia (2013): MSF temporarily suspended its operations in Somalia after a series of attacks against its staff and facilities in the country. Security risks for MSF staff in Somalia led the organization to review its ability to operate safely in the country.

**Libya (2011): During the armed conflict in Libya in 2011, MSF was forced to temporarily suspend its operations in the country due to security concerns and difficulties in accessing affected populations.

Being an uncomfortable witness has made the organization’s workers a target for those who want to silence their voice and curb their medical activity. And not only them. Every year, the bleeding gets worse.

Concluding for now

In summary, Doctors Without Borders plays an indispensable role in the global humanitarian aid landscape. Their dedication to saving lives and alleviating suffering in some of the world’s most disadvantaged regions is a testament to humanity’s ability to do good in times of crisis.

In addition to their work in emergencies, they also challenge structural injustices affecting the health of the world’s most marginalized communities. They advocate for equitable access to healthcare and denounce human rights violations affecting people’s health and well-being.

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Supporting them means supporting human dignity and global justice, and it is a commitment to the idea that everyone deserves access to basic healthcare, regardless of their situation or geographical location. Ultimately, the importance of Doctors Without Borders transcends words; it is manifested in the lives they save, the communities they rebuild, and the hope they inspire worldwide.

Translated By: Solkes

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