Winter Alert 2020: The year in review

A health worker dons personal protective equipment at the MSF care center for mild and moderate cases of COVID-19 in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Brazil. The facility here is adapted to serve indigenous communities, who make up 90 percent of the local population.
Brazil 2020 © Diego Baravelli/MSF
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Alert is a quarterly magazine published by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-USA) that features ground reporting from our work around the world. Below is an excerpt from MSF-USA Board President Dr. Africa Stewart's introduction to the Winter 2020 issue (Vol 21. No. 3.), The Year in Review.

A Letter from Dr. Africa Stewart

Dr.

Dr. Africa Stewart

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Dear friends,

The unchecked spread of the coronavirus across this country and around the world has provoked deep uncertainty and fear. But as we look at the work of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) over the past year, there are also many reasons to stay hopeful. MSF teams in more than 70 countries reacted quickly to prepare our medical projects for the threat of COVID-19, to respond directly to this new disease, and to keep other vital health services running despite the unprecedented challenges.

MSF is a global movement—more than 65,000-people strong. And it takes every one of us, working together, to deliver humanitarian aid to the people who need it most. As an emergency response organization, we must always be ready and willing to adapt. We welcome new voices and fresh perspectives. I am personally inspired by the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, and the constant drive toward innovation and improvement.

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Each of us has a specific role, but there is no such thing here as “not my job.” Our commitment to helping people is steeped in purposeful and meaningful inclusion at all levels.

Early in my MSF career, working in Aweil, in what is now South Sudan, I learned that oxytocin, a medication commonly used in the delivery room, had to be kept refrigerated. I learned this when a midwife handed me a cooler containing a checklist, a block of ice, a thermometer, and three vials of the medication. She told me it was “the end of the chain,” and what she meant was that every dose of this drug that we used in our projects had to be kept cold all along the journey to the patient’s bedside. It takes incredible dedication to maintain this “cold chain.” At each link, someone is personally responsible for safeguarding these drugs, from the enormous shipping containers to that handheld cooler.

Over nearly 50 years of humanitarian aid work in countries around the world, MSF has learned a lot about how to work with different communities. This diversity of experiences and perspectives helps inform the pursuit of our social mission. Along the way, we are learning to see ourselves and our role with greater clarity. We are an international organization with wide-ranging expertise, but we must focus on community needs as identified by community members themselves. In this special issue of Alert, you will see how this approach works from the ground up, from Puerto Rico to Brazil to Syria.

As we strive to build an antiracist organization, we are learning to recognize our blind spots and shed our biases. And as president of MSF-USA, I insist that we do this important work in a culture where every person feels safe, every person is treated with respect, and every person has opportunities to grow. We all understand the urgency of the work that needs to be done. And with that understanding comes the responsibility to ensure that work is done right.

The furious pace of events makes it impossible to capture an entire year’s worth of our work in this slim magazine. But we want to give you a glimpse inside some of our projects that are doing impressive work under extraordinary circumstances. We also want to remind you of some of the forgotten crises that have been almost completely overshadowed by COVID-19. Our teams are fighting other infectious diseases, from tuberculosis to HIV/AIDS to measles. This year we helped support the COVID-19 response in projects across the United States—in New York, Florida, Michigan, Texas, Puerto Rico, and worked with Native American communities in the Navajo Nation and Pueblos (see the summer issue of Alert). We also continued to respond to the complex emergency in Yemen and scaled up activities in Burkina Faso, the world’s fastest growing humanitarian crisis.

The world sure does feel heavy at times. But when we pull together and unite behind a common purpose, we can do a whole lot of good. We could not do any of this without you. Thank you for your support as we continue this essential work. Wishing you all a happy and healthy new year.

Sincerely,

Dr. Africa Stewart

President, MSF-USA Board of Directors