Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was founded in 1971 in France by a group of doctors and journalists in the wake of war and famine in Biafra, Nigeria. Their aim was to establish an independent organisation that focuses on delivering emergency medicine aid quickly, effectively and impartially.
Three hundred volunteers made up the organisation when it was founded: doctors, nurses and other staff, including the 13 founding doctors and journalists.
Since then we have intervened in the world’s worst humanitarian crises and armed conflicts. MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. The judges chose MSF “in recognition of the organisation’s pioneering humanitarian work on several continents” and to honour our medical staff, who have worked in more than 80 countries and treated tens of millions of people.
MSF’s actions are first and foremost medical. The notion of quality care for the individual patient is central to our humanitarian objective. We seek to provide high-quality care and to act always in the best interest of patients; to respect their confidentiality, their right to make their own decisions and above all, to do them no harm. When medical assistance alone is not enough, we may provide shelter, water and sanitation, food or other services.
Médecins Sans Frontières is a private, international association. The association is made up mainly of doctors and health sector workers and is also open to all other professions which might help in achieving its aims. All of its members agree to honour the following principles:
Médecins Sans Frontières provides assistance to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters and to victims of armed conflict. They do so irrespective of race, religion, creed or political convictions.
We offer assistance to people based on need. It doesn’t matter which country they are from, which religion they belong to, or what their political affiliations are. We give priority to those in the most serious and immediate danger.
Our decision to offer assistance is based on our evaluation of medical needs, independent of political, economic or religious interests. Our independence is rooted in our funding; over 90 per cent comes from individual private donors giving small amounts. We strive to freely evaluate needs, access populations without restriction, and to directly deliver the aid we provide.
We do not take sides in armed conflicts nor support the agendas of warring parties. Sometimes we are not present on all sides to the conflict; this may be because access is denied to us, or due to insecurity, or because the main needs of the population are already covered.
Neutrality is not synonymous with silence. Our proximity to people in distress implies a duty to raise awareness on their plight to ultimately help improve their situation. We may seek to bring attention to extreme need and suffering, when access to lifesaving medical care is hindered, when our teams witness extreme acts of violence, when crises are neglected, or when the provision of aid is abused.
We take responsibility of accounting for our actions to our patients and donors, and being transparent on the choices we make. Evaluations, critical reviews and debate on our field practices, our public positioning and on wider humanitarian issues, are necessary to improve what we do.
For more information about our medical humanitarian work, visit Médecins Sans Frontières international website.