Medécins Sans Frontières, which translates as Doctors without Borders, were amongst the first non-governmental, non-military aid agencies in the world, and claim to be the first purely medical concern. The organisation was founded on 20 December 1971, by a group of ten French medics who were working for the Red Cross in Biafra between 1968 and 1970. Their aim was to rectify what they perceive as the shortcomings of international aid, embodied in the Red Cross approach of strict neutrality and respect for diplomatic protocol, which restricted its workers to working within countries only after permission was given by the local government. MSF hoped to avoid this political edge by sticking to two objectives; providing medical care wherever needed, regardless or race, religion, politics, or sex, and raising awareness of the plight of the people they help.

The side effect of this stance was the that MSF staff are often accused of feeling that they having a 'duty to interfere' and make public whatever they have seen, but allows rapid deployment to disaster areas, as they don't ask permission from who ever is in charge of the area.

These aims are reflected in their charter, which is shown below, Médecins Sans Frontières:
  • Offers assistance to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters and to victims of armed conflict, without discrimation and irrespective of race, religion, creed or political affiliation.
  • Observes neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance and demands full and unhindered freedom in the exercise of its functions.
  • Volunteers undertake to respect their professional code of ethics and to maintain complete independence from all political, economic and religious powers.
  • Members are aware of the risks and dangers of the mission they undertake, and have no right to compensation for themselves or their beneficiaries other than that which Médecins Sans Frontières is able to afford them.

The speed of response that MSF manage, often within 24 hours, comes from their reliance on pre-packaged 'disaster kits', which include an operating theatre the size of a conference room table, and an obstetrics kit the size of a two-drawer file. These packs are stored in one of their four depots, in Europe and East Africa, as well as emergency stores in Central America and East Asia.

MSF's activities aren't restricted to just emergency medical care. They also retrain hospital staff, distribute food, drugs and medical supplies, improve sanitation, and educate both the local populations about diseases and the best practices to adopt to aviod them, but also the rest of the world via Populations in Danger, its periodical report on the world's most acute humanitarian disasters.

The organisation's 2.500 volunteers currently operate from offices in 18 countries and maintains ongoing activities in over 80 countries, all controlled from their Paris headquarters, which operates an annual budget of around $167 million, over 80% of which comes from private donors.

The list of awards that the organisation has received since its inception is impressive, and includes the Indira Gandhi Prize, the Medal of Peace, the Prix de la Concorde and culminating in the Nobel Peace Prize, which it was finally awarded in 1999, despite being nominated many times.

To donate to this hugely worthy cause visit www.msf.org/donations/index.cfm
A full list of their activities can be seen at www.msf.org/about/index.cfm?indexid=6ADD709C-CC75-11D4-B1FF0060084A6370

Sources include
http://www.msf.org/
www.doctorswithoutborders.org
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/intl/article/0,9171,1107991025-33687-2,00.html

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