A Look at Doctors Without Borders

Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres, is a humanitarian non-government organization that provides medical treatment and support to parts of the world that have been affected by war, natural disasters or endemic disease.

The organization was created in 1971 in France amidst concerns over the Biafra succession, better known as the Nigerian Civil War. A group of French doctors created the organization after volunteering for the French Red Cross and seeing the widespread devastation and torture inflicted by the Nigerian government. They publicly criticized the Nigerian government and the Red Cross for being neutral during the crisis. They wanted to create an aid organization that believed that a human’s right to medical care, regardless of their race, creed, religion or sex, was more important than geographical or governmental constraints, but that also believed in the rights of the oppressed, abused and sick. The international office is located in Geneva, Switzerland with operational centers located in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Geneva and Paris. It remains unaffiliated with any religious, political and governmental entities and therefore can remain seen as unbiased and act independently. This also gives the organization the ability to speak out publicly against the atrocities of war, crimes and lack of health care they witness in the field.

The organization’s first mission was in 1972. It was to bring aid and relief to Managua, Nicaragua after a massive earthquake destroyed a large part of the city and killed around 30,000 people. Notably, DWB has set up missions to aid places like Sudan during their civil war and ongoing drought, Rwanda during the genocide and Sierra Leone during their civil war. The organization also has ongoing aid missions to Chechnya, Kosovo, Columbia and Haiti.

In 2007, over 26,000 doctors, nurses, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators provided aid to over 60 countries around the world. While it is a very rewarding experience, volunteering for DWB can also be very dangerous. The Rwanda conflict in 1994 was so devastating and widespread that the organization called for military intervention for the first and only time since its inception. Also, kidnappings, arrests and murders of aid volunteers in war torn and politically unstable countries have been documented. For example, the head of the Doctors Without Borders Mission in Dagestan (North Caucasus) was kidnapped and held hostage by unknown assailants for nearly two years. To learn more about Doctors Without Borders, or for more information about how to offer your help, visit their website.

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