Our History

Some Founding Documents

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971.

Today, MSF provides independent, impartial assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflictepidemicsmalnutritionexclusion from health care, or natural disasters. MSF provides independent, impartial assistance to those most in need. MSF also reserves the right to speak out to bring attention to neglected crises, challenge inadequacies or abuse of the aid system, and to advocate for improved medical treatments and protocols.

By navigating the side menu you can read more about the history of MSF; how it was founded, a timeline of our work and James Orbinski's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

MSF in 40 seconds from MSF on Vimeo.

Humanitarian Action

MSF's work is based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people in crisis regardless of their race, religion, or political affiliation.

MSF operates independently of any political, military, or religious agendas. Medical teams conduct evaluations on the ground to determine a population's medical needs before opening programs, aiming to fill gaps that exist (rather than replicating services that are already offered) or reach communities that are not being assisted. The key to MSF’s ability to act independently in response to a crisis is its independent funding. Ninety percent of MSF's overall funding (and 100 percent of MSF-USA's funding) comes from private, non-governmental sources. In 2009, MSF had 3.8 million individual donors and private funders worldwide.

As an organization, MSF is neutral. It does not take sides in armed conflicts, provides care on the basis of need alone, and pushes for increased independent access to victims of conflict as required under international humanitarian law.

MSF's principles of action are described in the organization's 1971 founding charter, which established a framework for its activities.
 

Bearing Witness & Speaking Out

MSF medical teams often witness violence, atrocities, and neglect in the course of their work, much of which occurs in places that rarely receive international attention. 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.For example, in 1985, MSF spoke out against the Ethiopian government's forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of members of its own population. In 1994, the organization took the unprecedented step of calling for an international military response to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The following year, MSF condemned the Serbian massacre of civilians at Srebrenica, and four years after that, denounced the Russian military bombardment of the Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

In 2004 and 2005, MSF called on the United Nations Security Council to pay greater attention to the crisis in Darfur. And in 2007, MSF denounced the targeting of civilians in conflict—something that was occurring with greater frequency in the Democratic Republic of CongoCentral African RepublicChad, and Somalia—and the governments of Thailand and Laos, which were threatening to forcibly return nearly 8,000 Hmong refugees to Laos.

More recently, MSF endeavored to bring greater scrutiny to the inadequate response of both the South African government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees following xenophobic violence against Zimbabweans and other foreign African nationals; attempts to restrict the availability of generic medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS and other diseases; the hypocritical stance of nations who send nutrition-deficient products to developing nations and call it food aid; the need for a greater response to child malnutrition across the globe; the tendency to politicize and militarize humanitarian aid, as has happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the inadequate response by the international aid system to the cholera crisis in Haiti.

MSF medical teams on the ground 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.
 

Quality Medical Care

MSF rejects the idea that poor countries deserve third-rate medical services and strives to provide high-quality care to patients. Simultaneously, and with equal vigor, MSF continuously seeks to improve the organization's own practices.

Through the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines and, in recent years, in partnership with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, this work has helped lower the price of HIV/AIDS treatment and has stimulated research and development for medicines to treat malaria and neglected diseases like sleeping sicknesskala azar and chagas disease.

It has led to significant improvements in MSF’s logistics supply chains and several innovations in the field of humanitarian medicine, particularly in the care of chronic conditions and neglected diseases.

 

 
By: Rebecca Cederholm