Since its foundation, MSF has faced different forms of violence against its patients, staff, health facilities and medical vehicles, as well as against national health systems in general. Medical practice can thus be perverted for political and martial purposes. This violence deprives entire populations of vital assistance and is a means for the parties to the conflict to exert, both symbolically and practically, their power over people’s lives.
Media representations of suffering bodies from medical humanitarian organisations raise ethical questions, which deserve critical attention for at least three reasons. Firstly, there is a normative vacuum at the intersection of medical ethics, humanitarian ethics and the ethics of photojournalism. Secondly, the perpetuation of stereotypes of illness, famine or disasters, and their political derivations are a source of moral criticism, to which humanitarian medicine is not immune.
The present article looks at the 2010 aid efforts in Haiti, a year in which 2 events resulted in massive humanitarian crisis. The first, the January 2010 earthquake, triggered overwhelming mobilization of aid: hundreds of actors poured into the country, deploying large scale emergency assistance. The second event, a cholera epidemic, started in October and received much media attention, but met with an overstretched aid community.
Humanitarian action, as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) conceives it today, is intended to provide relief to populations in danger, and not to add war to war. It must be – in its discourse but especially in practice – neutral, impartial and independent of political powers or state or personal interests. This means that, as a medical and humanitarian organization, it must be able aid all of those in need, regardless of their side, depending on needs and not on any other criteria. MSF cannot determine who the perpetrators are and who the victims are.
In developing countries, extractive industries have far reaching consequences on health through environmental pollution, some communicable diseases, violence, destitution, and compromised food security. The rapid expansion of extractive industries and the increasing frequency of environmental disasters are bound to engage medical humanitarian organisations in developing novel types of expertise.
There are no sirens. Nor is the silence disrupted by the rush of feet or frantic blue lights. Instead, our enduring patients arrive at the hospital gates on foot, most having travelled for many hours, if not days, through the unrelenting 40° C heat; the privileged cling to motorcycles already laden with firewood and kitchen utensils in anticipation of a prolonged admission...
This article analyzes Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) organizational transformation serving victims of sexual violence. It examines how conflicts, AIDS, and media coverage shaped the institutional environment’s resistance and motivation to change. Using social representations of victims and ethical and technical issues MSF reconsidered its field interventions and institutional learning dynamic.
For medical humanitarian organizations, making their sources of legitimacy explicit is a useful exercise, in response to: misperceptions, concerns over the ‘humanitarian space’, controversies about specific humanitarian actions, challenges about resources allocation and moral suffering among humanitarian workers. This is also a difficult exercise, where normative criteria such as international law or humanitarian principles are often misrepresented as primary sources of legitimacy.
In Africa, although emergence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) tuberculosis (TB) represents a serious threat in countries severely affected by the HIV epidemic, most countries lack drug-resistant TB data. This finding was particularly true in the Kingdom of Swaziland, which has the world’s highest HIV and TB prevalences. Therefore, a national survey was conducted in 2009–2010 to measure the prevalence of drug-resistant TB.
In this special feature of this issue of Humanitarian Exchange, which focuses on humanitarian action in the Middle East, Caroline Abu-Sada describes how Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has adapted its approach to providing emergency medical care to different country contexts in the Middle East.