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Doctors Without Borders: Mission, History & Development

Doctors Without Borders                                                                                                                               

Doctors Without Borders Logo (6)
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is
an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. (US, 2011)

                      Table of Contents
                              -Why MSF is Important and the Role they Play
                                   -Natural Disasters



Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontiers or MSF) is a program whose goal is to help those in need of medical assistance. MSF helps people in countries that are stuck by natural disasters, and epidemics. One of MSF goals is to be able to bring health care to those who would not have it otherwise. MSF is most known for providing assistance to citizens and refugees of countries that are impacted by war. As of 2011 MSF has provided care for more than 60 countries.

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(US, 2011).

The video below provides a more detailed overview of MSF. The video was created by MSF(3).
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.

Médecins Sans Frontières observes neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance and claims full and unhindered freedom in the exercise of its functions.

Members undertake to respect their professional code of ethics and to maintain complete independence from all political, economic, or religious powers.

As volunteers, members understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out and make no claim for themselves or their assigns for any form of compensation other than that which the association might be able to afford them.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is an important humanitarian organization. MSF also reserves the right to speak out when they notice problems with countries health care system, and to bring attenion to neglected or forgotten crisis. They provide help with no political affiliation, and this is an important factor because it means if they go into a war zone they do not support one side or the other. They are there to provide medical help to any who require it. When providing medical aid especially when in a war zone MSF member are sometimes attacked and killed, this happens in cases when there is no war and they are providing aid as well. In an interview with Doctor James Orbinsk, who founded the Canadian branch of MSF, was questioned about this, about this and replied:

     "A human being in a moral quandary may or may not be willing to take life-threatening risks when it is not clear that those risks will make a difference to people who are suffering or dying.The ever-present challenge is to remain hopeful, which is very difficult indeed. To achieve it, one must see all parties to conflict-victims, perpetrators, and those who watch from the sidelines-as human beings. Hope in another's capacity to be human can actually help him re-achieve this. This is what humanitarianism is all about. It is simple, yet very difficult."(Spencer,1997,p. 20).                          
MSF provides medical care to people who are affected by war, and to those who are caught in war zones. MSF will treat all types of injuries whether they be from guns, knives, or bombs. MSF will also provide everyday medical care as well; they do everything from treating everyday illness to delivering a baby. MSF also tries to provide help to those that have been cutoff from medical care because of the war. MSF will also supply basic supplies to refugees who have been forced to abandon their homes because of war.  
MSF provides health care and creates treatment centers when there are epidemics. A more recent case when they have done this is with a cholera epidemic in Haiti. Doctors Without Borders partnered with Medical Missionaries to help at the Medical Missionaries  St. Joseph Clinic in Thomassique, Haiti. MSF went and assessed their needs and after being their for less than one week they had constructed four new tent buildings. Inside of the new buildings MSF hung posters that taught proper hygiene that would help prevent the spread of cholera. After the new facilities were up MSF continued helping by building two latrines, two showers, two water reservoirs, a waste disposal zone, and three foot-bathes. Upon completing the facilities the MSF team helped find and train new staff members and taught all of the staff new diagnostic protocols. With the new diagnostic protocols they reduced the overcrowding and had a much smaller number of patients so the doctors and nurses were not stretched as thin.

Below there is a slide show of the work MSF did in Haiti. There are captions located at the top of each picture-pictures provided by Medical Missionaries.
MSF treated around 200,000 malnourished children in Africa and Asia. MSF used Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food(RUTF), RUTF changed the way malnutrition is treated they used to give out supplement-enriched flour but now they use the RUTF. RUTF is a peanut butter like paste that contains all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed for young children to have proper development. Before the use of RUTF malnourished childern would have to stay in a hospital for several weeks to be treated, but now MSF can send families home with several weeks worth of RUTF to treat thier child at home. This allows MSF to provide treatment to many more children. MSF did a massive trial in Niger in 2005, and treated 63,000 severely malnourished children and had an outpaitent success rate of 90%(US..., 2011).

           Natural Disasters                                                                          
MSF will help provide medical care after a natural disaster as well. Often times though the country needs more help with rebuilding than they do with medical care. The countries that do need do need help from MSF to take care of thier injured after a natural disater typically already have an MSF team located in their country. When this is the case it makes it much easier for them to respond in thime because they are much closer than they would be otherwise.


In 1970 a group of French doctors joined an international aid mission to help victims of Nigeria’s civil war. They were frustrated by government interference in humanitarian aid and felt they were being silenced when they wanted to tell the world about the atrocities they witnessed. To speak out about the plight of victims, and seeking an independent, impartial way to provide care where they saw the greatest need, they joined a group of French journalists who were committed to the same principles and founded MSF in 1971(MSF UK, 2006). Later one of the Co-founders left because he did not like where the program was heading, he founded Doctors of the World.

MSF has added several parts to their mission since it began. They have added programs to treat the malnourished, marginalized youth, rape victims, sexual assault victims, and programs for people with mental health problems. MSF now has offices around the world with its International Office located in Geneva, Switzerland.

MSF does not like to ask for military aid and the time when they did was in 1994 dealing with genocide in Rwanda. MSF won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. They have given aid to more than 60 countries, and have over 22,000 people helping around the world.

Each of the red symbols represents MSF presence in a country (6)
This is a condensed version of the Official MSF time line it contains the years new MSF office opened, MSF firsts, and other important events related to MSF. There is a link for the complete photo timeline at the bottom of this timeline. 
To find complete version 
1975 MSF established its first large scale medical program for Cambodians escaping Pol Pot’s Rule.
1976 MSF does surgery in the MSF’s first major response
1979 MSFcreates a more structures organization to provide quality medical services in crises Co-founder leaves in protest of the change and starts Doctors of the World
1980-MSF goes to Afghanistan 
1980-MSF opens offices in Belgium and Switzerland
1984-MSF strats program to treat malnutrition
1984-MSF office established in Amsterdam
1985-MSF speaks out against Ethiopian government’s misuse of aid and Ethiopia expels MSF
1986-MSF opens offices in Spain and Luxembourg
1988-MSF provides medical care in Soviet Union for the first time due to an Earthquake
1989-MSF open first mental health program
1990-MSF open office in USA
1991-MSF opens offices in Canada and Italy and the International Office is formed and based in Geneva
1991-In the largest emergency response to date MSF provides care in Turkey, Iran, and Jordan to Kurds who were forced to leave their homes because of the advancing Iraqi army
1992-MSF opens programs to treat malnourished children and adults
1994-MSF calls for international military intervention for the first time ever in response to the genocide in Rwanda 
1996-MSF offices formed in Norway, Austria, Australia, Denmark ,China, Japan, Germany, Greece, Sweden, and the UK
1997-MSFexpands its medical and social programs to include marginalized youth

1998-MSF protocols now include treatment for rape victims and victims of sexual assault
1999-MSF launches access to essential medicines campaign
1999-MSF awarded Nobel Peace Prize
2000-MSF starts providing antiretroviral therapy for people with HIV/AIDS
2001-MSF includes mental health activities in emergency response around the world
2001-MSF briefly evacuates many members of their international staff from Taliban held areas
2003-U.S invades Iraq and MSF remains in Baghdad
2003-Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative Created
2004-MSF leaves Afghanistan after 5 MSF workers are assassinated
2004-MSF leaves Iraq because the level of risk is unacceptable
2004-Tsunami Hits South Asia and MSF receive $133 million from public and asks people to stop making donations for the crisis because they received more funding than needed
2005-MSF using de-restricted fund from the tsunami treats 63,000 severly malnourished
children using the RUFT’s
2007-Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative launches ASAQ an inexpensive drug to fight malaria
2007-MSF returns to Iraq
2009-MSF returns to Afghanistan
2010-MSF responds to the earthquake in Haiti and launches one of its largest interventions there
2010-MSF and VII launch Starved for Attention to help combat malnutrition
2010-MSFbegins the organizations first ever lead poisoning response in Nigeria
2010-MSF begins its response to the cholera outbreak in Haiti
2010-MSF supports use of new Meningitis A Vaccine
(MSF 2011)
For a complete photo timeline use this website
Holding down the Ctrl button click on the link 


Doctors Without Borders (MSF) came about because there were French doctors who wanted to provide aid to victims of Nigeria's civil war. The French government interfered and did not allow the doctors to tell the world all that they saw. The doctors partnered up with journalist that had similar frustration and together they formed the MSF. 

The origins of MSF are part of the reason that MSF refuses to accept government aid because they want to function independently of the government. The MSF USA section gets all of their funds from private donations and none from the government. 

MSF has developed overtime but they still have the same purpose as they did when they were first created. They exist to provide medical aid to those in need, and to bring awareness to the rest of the world of what goes on. One way they have developed is who they help. They now help the victims of war and those affected by natural disasters, epidemics, and malnutrition.

They also now help with more types of medical problems. They provide aid for those mental health problems, rape and sexual assault victims, and they provide treatments to those with AIDS/HIV. There are now MSF offices all over the country opposed to just the one in France.

MSF nowadays will also join up with other organizations and help them out like when they helped out Medical Missionaries with their hospital in Haiti when there was the cholera outbreak.

Overall MSF serves the same purpose as they did in the 1970's when they were formed. Now though they are able to provide more services and have better technology but they still exist to provide medical care to those in need.


1)  Medical Missionaries, Inc. (2011.) MSF-Doctors Without Borders Helps Fight Cholera in Haiti. Retrieved from 

2)  Middle East Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders. (2011). MSF Historical Timeline.    
           Retrieved From

3)  MSF (Creators). MSF (Poster) (2008, January 10). About Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres 

             [Video]  Retrieved from

4)   MSF UK. (2006). Our History. Retrieved from http://

5)   Spencer,Metta. (1997, March/April). A Doctor Without Borders: James Orbinski. Peace Magazine,13, 20.

6)   U.S. section of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). (2011). Doctors Without Borders.    

               Retrieved from