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Our history

Founded to save lives and speak out, MSF teams have cared for tens of millions of people since 1971.

Brazil 1996 © Remco Bohle

MSF's founding

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was founded in 1971 in France by a group of doctors and journalists in the wake of war and famine in Biafra, Nigeria. Their aim was to establish an independent organization that focused on delivering emergency medical humanitarian aid quickly, effectively, and impartially.
Three hundred volunteers made up the organization when it was founded, including doctors, nurses, logistics experts, and other staff, including the 13 founding members. MSF was established on the belief that all people should have access to high quality health care, regardless of gender, race, religion, creed, or political affiliation. From the start, our teams made a commitment not just to care for patients but to bear witness to their experiences and speak out to call attention to the problems driving emergency needs.

A global movement

Over the past five decades, MSF has grown from a group of a few hundred volunteers to an international movement of more than 68,000 staff providing over 16 million medical consultations in more than 70 countries every year. But the core values of humanitarianism, independence, neutrality, and impartiality that brought those original members together in 1971 continue to drive our work.

The 1999 Nobel Peace Prize

In October 1999 MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “in recognition of the organization’s pioneering humanitarian work on several continents.” Dr. James Orbinski, then president of the MSF International Council, used his acceptance speech to speak directly to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin and condemn Russian violence against civilians in Chechnya.