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MSF in France, 2004
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At the end of December 2003, the French government narrowed the eligibility criteria for its state medical aid program, better known as AME (Aide Médicale d'Etat). AME was created to help the estimated 150,000 economically disadvantaged people residing in France who lack residency permits to obtain needed medical care.
Yet the modifications to AME effectively ended their immediate access to the system and to free medical care. Many medical and social organizations, including MSF, have advocated strongly against these changes in AME and in the related universal sickness coverage system called CMU (Couverture Maladie Universelle). An MSF petition demanding better health coverage for undocumented residents gathered more than 100,000 signatures.
In June 2004, six months after the AME reforms were introduced, teams from MSF and other France-based medical NGOs released testimonies describing the new system's harmful effects on undocumented residents. These accounts included stories of people forced to use already overburdened hospitals for non-emergency treatment.
The testimonies also told of people arriving at hospital emergency rooms with serious illnesses because they waited much too long for treatment. Statements by the health minister of France suggesting that access to AME would be re-established for undocumented migrants in need of urgent medical care have not been put into effect.
Before these new restrictions came into effect, the coverage granted by AME and CMU enabled MSF to close a number of the medical/social-service centers it had set up in the city of Marseille in southern France. MSF teams working at these centers had been assisting the most vulnerable people in French society. MSF also ran shelters in the cities of Lille and Colmar (the latter in partnership with another organization) to help young people in extremely precarious situations. A team also started a program to help immigrants in Marseille to demand their legally entitled social benefits.
Today, MSF continues to provide care for drug-addicted individuals living in the capital, Paris. The organization also operates two medical/social-service centers, one in Paris and the other in Marignane (Bouches de RhÃ´ne), where local residents can obtain medical consultations and help in securing the care to which they are legally entitled.
MSF has worked in France since 1987.