Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) was founded four decades ago by doctors and journalists returning from a devastating famine in Biafra, Nigeria, where thousands of children had been denied access to food during a brutal civil war. There was a need, they believed, for an organization that could both dispense emergency medical services and also speak out about the reasons why such treatment was necessary in the first place.
Forty years on, the same dual sense of purpose lives on. Several months ago, we sent teams to set up emergency medical programs to treat people caught in violence erupting in Libya, Bahrain, southern Sudan, and Ivory Coast. At the same time, we spoke out forcefully about the violation of health facilities in Bahrain, the need for NATO countries to attend to the people fleeing a war they support in Libya, and other matters affecting patients in the countries where we work.
This issue of Alert contains updates from these and other contexts, including excerpts of a journal kept by Delphine Chedorge, an emergency coordinator who led one of the teams charged with providing medical care during the fevered factional fighting that gripped Ivory Coast this past Spring.
At the same time, though, we want to share another crucial part of our work, which centers on gathering and analyzing data from our programs. By constantly reviewing our efforts, we can use the findings both to identify ways we can improve and also to demonstrate to a larger audience what works and what does not. In addition to informing us about what we could be doing better, this gives us the evidence we need to advocate on behalf of our patients, to call for changes where changes need to be made or new policies where new policies are required.
For example, on page 8, we highlight a study conducted in Niger by MSF’s epidemiological research center, Epicentre, that shows that providing children who are malnourished or at risk of becoming malnourished with supplemental nutritional foods and basic health care services can lower mortality rates by 50 percent. Additionally, starting on page 12, we share findings from a report authored by MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines that cites recent research showing that treating HIV not only prolongs lives, it also helps reduce new cases.
This combination of direct action, research and reflection, and strategic advocacy is an inherent part of MSF’s work, a core aspect of our efforts to better both our projects on the ground and the governmental and institutional policies that impact them. We can do this thanks to your support and our shared belief that people enduring the worst of circumstances should benefit from the best that medicine has to offer.
Executive Director, MSF-USA