Objectives and activities

© Robin Meldrum/ MSF

The Research Unit aims to improve the way MSF’s projects are implemented in the field and to participate in the critical reflection on humanitarian and medical action. It aims to give humanitarian workers the means to reflect on their own practices. This is done at two levels: firstly, on concrete problems encountered at the project level and, secondly, on wider stakes concerning dunantist humanitarian action today.


The Research Unit is involved in different types of activities:

  • Long term research projects: ethics and legitimacy of medical action, perception of humanitarian action, population displacement, sexual violence, etc.
  • Support to the field and in determining operational policies: punctual work as requested by operations.
  • Institutional positioning and representation: symposiums, debates, conferences and networking.
  • Teaching and student supervision: Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action (CERAH), McMaster University, etc.
Plan of action 2018-2020

UREPH aims to contribute to the generation and dissemination of knowledge, and to public positioning on critical humanitarian and medical issues of MSF Switzerland in particular, and MSF in general.
Woven tightly into MSF Switzerland’s Strategic Plan 2016-2019, UREPH’s research and reflection specifically focuses on healthcare improvement and restraints to MSF’s access and local acceptance and support.
Three key areas have emerged for focused, cross-disciplinary reflection:

• The humanitarian healthcare environment
  • An analysis of the “violence” phenomenon via studies of intentionality and damage caused, the consequences of inter-individual violence, and analyses of State policies.
  • A study on “health security” and/or medical scapegoating of misunderstood and life-threatening diseases when “blame” is apportioned for the disease itself – or its transmission.
• The ecological environment
  • Addressing the rising ecological environmental health concerns and understanding the extent to which operational practices are harming the human and ecological environment.
  • Supporting the Operations department on the implementation and analysis of environmental projects in Kyrgyzstan.
• Our internal, human environment
  • Individual level: UREPH aims to develop a structured, open-access compilation of interviews recorded to share significant and emblematic testimonies of moral experiences.
  • Organisational level: Developing a system of knowledge resources and a support network to address ethics at managerial and field levels.

In addition to long-term thematic research, UREPH also provides ad hoc support to the field and to priority Operations dossiers.