A Nobel winner

Print edition : February 07, 2014

At an MSF mobile clinic in downtown Mogadishu. Photo: MSF

STARTED in 1971, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was the brainchild of two groups of doctors who had worked in conflict and disaster zones and were frustrated by the hurdles that doctors faced for political reasons. One group had worked in Biafra, Nigeria, and the other in the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The core of their ideals was to stay neutral and focus on medical aid. To ensure their neutrality, the organisation refuses finance from controversial sources like governments and companies that work with mineral extraction and pharmaceuticals. It is a not-for-profit organisation, and 82 per cent of its resources go towards humanitarian activities. The rest supports administrative and management needs and is also reinvested in fund raising. Eighty-nine per cent of MSF’s funding comes from more than 4.5 million individual donors from around the world. The organisation has an international budget of $ 1 billion.

In order to be able to respond immediately to crises, MSF holds a reserve of a minimum of three months’ and a maximum of twelve months’ budget of the total expenditure. Thirty thousand health professionals, logistics experts and administrative staff run projects in approximately 70 countries around the world. In 2012 alone, MSF medical teams provided over eight million outpatient consultations, helped deliver around 1,85,000 babies, conducted nearly 80,000 surgical procedures, and vaccinated almost 7,00,000 people against measles worldwide.

In India, MSF has a varied portfolio, working with HIV/AIDS and TB patients in Mumbai and Manipur; fighting malnutrition and kala azar in Bihar; supporting the district hospital in Mon, Nagaland; running mobile health clinics and hospitals for women and children in Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh; and providing mental health services in Jammu and Kashmir.

In 1999, MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “in recognition of the organisation’s pioneering humanitarian work on several continents”.

Lyla Bavadam