Episode: "House Arrest"
RUSSIA | SRI LANKA
Veronique has been in Sri Lanka for four years. Is this typical? How long do medical personnel usually stay in any particular country?
The minimum commitment for a first-time volunteer is six months, although a nine-month to one-year assignment is more typical. (General surgeons and anesthesiologists with extensive experience may be accepted for shorter assignments, of six weeks or more.) It is very unusual for a doctor to stay in one country for four years. It is more common for medical personnel to complete a one-year mission, take a break, and then begin a different one-year assignment in another country at a later date.
In this episode, in addition to offering medical care, MSF is supplying refugees in Ingushetia with tents. What is the procedure by which MSF decides upon the components of a project.
MSF may start a project when it identifies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, or when it has been invited by the national government or a UN agency to establish a project. In either case, an exploratory team of experienced MSF personnel visits the site and evaluates the medical, nutritional, and sanitary needs, the political environment, the security situation, transportation facilities, and local capabilities.
Upon starting a project, the following actions (in addition to providing health care) are taken as necessary: vaccination campaigns, training and supervising local medical personnel, improving water and sanitation facilities to prevent epidemics such as cholera, distributing food and establishing therapeutic feeding centers, and providing mental health care.
But these categories of humanitarian relief are not set in stone. Providing shelter is a basic necessity of survival and should be a fundamental component of health care for refugees and the displaced. If no one else is providing shelter for Chechan refugees in Ingushetia, for example, MSF will supply them with tents.
Gabriel and Manana left Ingushetia because of increased security risk. Who makes the decision to suspend a mission when security is an issue?
Not all of MSF's projects are located in dangerous areas, but in many cases conflict is the reason for the organization's presence. Whether crossing checkpoints in an active conflict zone or traveling roads that may contain landmines from a bygone war, volunteers can expect to encounter situations that call for both skill and good judgment. Safety is of critical importance to MSF. In most contexts, MSF's independence and the trust it builds with communities in need serve as an invisible but powerful shield. However, as the world's warring parties become increasingly fragmented, neutrality does not always provide sufficient protection. To help avoid or cope with dangerous situations, all volunteers receive information on security precautions and local politics as part of their overall mission briefings.
MSF has standard security guidelines and each mission has country-specific security guidelines. In some contexts, there may even be cause for project-specific security guidelines. Safety of all team members depends on each person's commitment and implementation of the guidelines. Volunteers may leave a mission at any time if they feel their safety is in jeopardy. The head of the mission would be the one who would make the decision to evacuate a mission after discussing the situation with the project coordinator.