February 03, 2002

Fourth Annual Listing Emphasizes Decreasing Protection for Refugees, the Need for Neglected Disease Treatments, and Ongoing Wars in Congo, Chechnya, and Colombi

 

New York, February 5, 2002 — The international humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today issued its fourth annual list of what it considers to be the most underreported humanitarian stories of the year. The group compiled the list to call attention to crises that were largely overlooked by the media in the United States during 2001.

New entries on this year's list include a virtually unknown refugee crisis in the West African countries of Liberia and Guinea, as well as a crackdown on North Koreans fleeing their famine-stricken country for China. These situations are part of a general decline in protections given to refugees and displaced people worldwide, a trend also seen in the deplorable conditions endured by displaced Chechens.

"Given the media's clear and understandable focus on the September 11 attacks and their aftermath, it's not surprising that other events went underreported," says Nicolas de Torrente, executive director of the U.S. office of Doctors Without Borders. "Still, we need to shed light on the reality faced by millions of others suffering from illness and war on a grand scale."

The lack of treatments for neglected diseases makes it onto the list as well. While coverage of AIDS in the developing world has increased significantly since Doctors Without Borders began its list, this year's publication points to a dearth of news on other widespread deadly diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, kala azar, and sleeping sickness. For example, when a massive malaria epidemic swept through Burundi, affecting more than 3 million, it received scant media exposure in the United States.

Afghanistan is notably absent from the "Top Ten" list for the first time in four years. The current war has yielded a remarkable increase in media attention to humanitarian conditions in a country that have long been highlighted by MSF.

"While greater understanding of Afghanistan is encouraging, it's unfortunate that it has taken a war in which the United States is directly involved," said Mr. de Torrente. "More attention to conflicts in the Congo and Sri Lanka, for example, or to diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, could also have a tremendous impact."

MSF delivers medical aid to victims of wars, natural and man-made disasters, epidemics, and social and geographic isolation in nearly 90 countries. In 2001, more than 3,000 Doctors Without Borders volunteers brought aid not only to the world's "hot spots" but also to many places that fall outside the glare of the media's spotlight. A full account of the "Top Ten" crises is available here.