Medical humanitarian action seeks to save lives and alleviate the suffering of those most at risk as a result of an acute crisis. Armed conflict has a devastating impact on ordinary people—direct violence, forced displacement, epidemic outbreaks, starvation, and psychological trauma are common consequences, as is the collapse of local health services. Providing life-saving medical and nutritional assistance to victims of armed conflict is MSF's main priority. The mounting death and suffering associated with infectious diseases, fueled by the neglect of governments, is the other main area of MSF's programmatic focus, and the organization aims to effectively provide treatment and care to vulnerable people affected by such diseases as HIV/AIDS, TB, human African trypanomiasis, and visceral leishmaniasis. MSF also responds to the needs of people who are excluded from access to essential health services, and assists victims of natural disasters.
MSF's decision to intervene in any crisis is based solely on our independent assessment of people's needs—not political, economic, or religious interests. MSF does not take sides or intervene where governments or warring parties tell us to—we go where the medical needs are greatest. MSF's single-minded mission is to help those most in need, to the exclusion of any other agenda and without taking sides—this is the meaning of the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence to which MSF is deeply committed. Each year, MSF doctors, nurses, logisticians, water-and-sanitation experts, administrators, and other medical and non-medical professionals depart on more than 4,700 aid assignments. They work alongside more than 25,800 locally hired staff to provide medical care in more than 70 countries.
Experienced MSF teams determine medical humanitarian needs by conducting independent assessments of the situation on the ground. The teams focus on assessing the condition of the affected people as well as their vulnerability to the crisis. Local medical professionals are important sources of information that MSF may complement by carrying out independent epidemiological and nutritional surveys. The existing capacity of local medical staff and facilities as well as the response of other outside parties are all key factors in determining whether MSF's intervention is required. The local authorities' acceptance of MSF's action and adequate safety conditions for our volunteers are critical prerequisites for any intervention. Projects are outlined in detail before they are launched and evaluated throughout their operation. Clearly defined quantitative, as well as qualitative, objectives are revised if necessary. The duration of our intervention is determined solely by those needs that are defined and reevaluated over the course of the mission. Projects and needs are evaluated on an ongoing basis through a standardized data collection system, plus ad-hoc epidemiological surveys.
MSF is committed to ensuring that its assistance actually reaches those it is intended to help. For this reason, we insist that our field staff must be free to communicate with the people we seek to help; to travel and independently assess needs; to determine how our aid will be allocated; and to be involved in the actual delivery of assistance. This is also why MSF directly manages all aspects of our field programs and does not delegate management responsibility to third parties. When it is the only effective way of reaching patients, MSF may provide medicines and medical materials to existing health facilities, particularly in highly insecure contexts. On rare occasions, MSF may also provide financial support to other private humanitarian organizations, community groups, or health facilities we are working closely with in a specific field, and we exercise close oversight over these activities.
MSF takes seriously its responsibility to ensure that all of its assets—whether resources or services—exclusively serve humanitarian purposes. Accordingly, rigorous program funding and personnel procedures are in place to prevent the diversion of assets. Excerpts of our program funding and personnel procedures are available for review upon request. MSF does not knowingly employ individuals who use any of its assets to engage in or support conduct that contravenes MSF's humanitarian mission, including violence or other conduct that seriously endangers the health or welfare of others.