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How Does MSF Share its Medical Findings?
January 31, 2013
This article is part of the Winter 2013 issue of the MSF Alert newsletter.
Sierra Leone 2012 © Lynsey Addario/VII
Patricia Kahn is an MSF Medical Editor based in New York.
In 2012, MSF published more than 100 papers, including some in leading journals like The Lancet and PLoS Medicine. Just before the big international AIDS conference last year, we had a very visible policy article in Science on scaling up HIV treatment. We also publish in more specialized journals, on topics like malnutrition, maternal health, and neglected tropical diseases. Some of what we publish is based on MSF research that assesses the effectiveness in the field of different diagnostics, treatments, or program strategies. We have to adapt a lot of methods and practices that were developed for Western health care conditions—so, for example, we might evaluate a newer, shorter, or simpler treatment against a standard one.
Some of our research concerns programmatic innovations, the results of decisions to work with our patients in ways that fit their context better. And some of our publications don’t cover research per se, but present perspectives from doctors on the front lines, viewpoints we think should be part of the medical literature.
In addition to sharing our findings with the medical community, these articles can help us advocate for changes in policy. When MSF shows in a peer-reviewed medical journal that one practice works better than another, it helps a Head of Mission say to Ministry of Health officials, "We’d like to introduce this innovation, we’d like to vaccinate, for example, in response to an outbreak." Vaccination is usually viewed as a preventive intervention used in advance of outbreaks. But there are examples, such as measles, where MSF has shown the value of reactive vaccination campaigns—i.e. vaccination after an outbreak has begun. MSF’s data played a big role in the World Health Organization’s decision to recommend reactive vaccination in some circumstances after measles outbreaks.
You can’t come into a country and just do any medical intervention. Countries have guidelines. There are international guidelines as well, particularly from the WHO. In quite a number of cases, MSF research has played a role in moving national and international guidelines towards better practices that lead to better outcomes for patients.