A Letter from Dr. Africa Stewart
The world was already on fire with the COVID-19 pandemic when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake devastated southwestern Haiti on August 14. When the quake hit, thousands of people were injured or killed; homes and buildings were damaged and destroyed; and the country’s infrastructure—which was already reeling from a deepening political and economic crisis—was dealt another heavy blow.
That same day—half a world away—forces of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (also known as the Taliban) were consolidating their control over the country in the wake of the US withdrawal. Thousands of people were killed and injured amid intense fighting over the preceding months. By now the conflict has mostly subsided, but Afghanistan’s health system lies in ruins. Many international organizations providing health care and other urgently needed aid have withdrawn.
In both of these emergencies, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams already present on the ground were able to adapt to the needs while maintaining existing projects. Though our decades of experience in these regions and global logistics network helped, the key to these immediate responses was our Haitian and Afghan staff.
In both of these emergencies, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams already present on the ground were able to adapt to the needs while maintaining existing projects. Though our decades of experience in these regions and global logistics network helped, the key to these immediate responses was our Haitian and Afghan staff. MSF is known for sending doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to the places where they’re needed most, but the majority of our staff—more than 80 percent of them, in fact—are working to provide lifesaving medical care in the communities where they live. They were the ones who kept the projects in Haiti and Afghanistan running when crisis struck, even as they dealt with the same fear, loss, and uncertainty their families, friends, and neighbors were experiencing.
In this issue of Alert, we zoom in on the complex emergency in Haiti. You'll read about how our teams here were able to quickly provide urgently needed surgical, post-operative, and psychosocial care. Staff worked in hospitals and mobile clinics to bring services to people living in rural and remote areas, tending to as many as 100 patients per day. You’ll learn about the long-term post-operative care our teams are providing for earthquake survivors who suffered life-changing injuries. And you’ll meet Xavier Kernizan, a Haitian surgeon working for MSF in Port-au-Prince, who was part of a surgical team that rushed to respond to the gravest wounds just hours after the quake hit.
We talk a lot about our duty of care to our patients, but as an international movement we also have a duty of care to our staff, no matter who they are or where they’re from. It’s why we provided psychological support to our colleagues in Haiti as they weathered the quake, and why we’re working with all of our teams in Afghanistan to ensure their safety in a time of deep uncertainty. It’s also why we’re engaged in an international process to move toward one global workforce, with the aim of breaking down structural barriers between so-called internationally mobile and locally hired staff. This process—which is happening at the highest levels of MSF—will establish new minimum standards for pay and benefits for all staff, among other initiatives. Our international executive leadership has also committed to fostering career development and growth for all staff, whether they’re working abroad or in the community where they live.
I joined MSF in 2011 because I wanted to do the right thing—and doing the right thing means doing right by our staff around the world. As I’ve grown with this organization, I’ve learned that it’s solidarity with my colleagues that gets this difficult work done, especially in times of crisis. As MSF has grown, so too have our ambitions. In order to tackle the world’s biggest crises, we need all of us.
Thank you, as always, for being a part of our movement and standing in solidarity with our dedicated staff around the world.
Dr. Africa Stewart
President, MSF-USA Board of Directors