Bearing witness to an acute crisis has its limits. It doesn’t stop an armed militia from attacking the villagers, nor the Ebola virus from infecting grieving relatives. So what’s the point?
Sometimes it’s clear: we denounce, confront, or inﬂuence key decision makers. We alert the international community to mass violations or atrocities such as the bombing of hospitals. When government policies compound the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable, we pointedly remind them of their responsibilities. We relay the voices of our patients so that those in positions of power can never say, “We didn’t know what was happening.”
Sometimes it’s about drawing attention to a neglected crisis, like the need for new and affordable treatments for tuberculosis—the world’s leading infectious killer. We also celebrate the courage of survivors of drug-resistant TB who have become change makers for the sake of others. Stories of success, of healing, embolden us to keep trying and innovating.
I recently visited Haiti, whose descent into a new spiral of economic distress, protest, and violence is compelling MSF to restart operations in Tabarre trauma hospital in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The hospital is scheduled to open its doors in late November. We also continue to run a burn hospital and an outpatient emergency ward in Port-au-Prince. Offering free, lifesaving surgery and critical care in an urban environment rife with gangs requires us to speak out locally, at the community level, about the importance of allowing ambulances and medical personnel to move freely and safely.
Sometimes we are criticized for getting too political. After all, our charter proudly states that MSF observes neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance. However, we believe that the principles of neutrality and impartiality do not require us to remain silent in the face of abuses. Our decision to speak out is always guided by MSF’s mission to alleviate suffering, protect life and health, and ensure respect for all human beings and recognition of our shared humanity.
This commitment to témoignage draws us closer together with our patients and the communities we serve.