Médecins Sans Frontières origins

Bernard Kouchner was a Red Cross doctor who founded Médecins Sans Frontières (or Doctors Without Borders as it’s known in the US and Canada).

Kouchner was moved to righteous rage during Nigeria’s civil war of 1967–70, when Biafran secessionists tried to break away from the federation. The International Committee of the Red Cross, hewing to a strict interpretation of humanitarian law, did not speak out on behalf of the Biafran cause and later shuttered its Biafran operation.

Kouchner, convinced that the Nigerians were set to commit genocide against the Biafran populace, was furious. He quit the ICRC and founded Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), aiming for a dynamic, courageous agency ready to rush in where the humanitarian establishment feared to tread.

Alex de Waal, writing in World Affairs, goes on to say, “Kouchner sees himself as a master of using the media to further humanitarian causes, employing his formidable network of contacts among journalists and opinion makers, as well as an instinctive sense of drama, to accomplish his aims.”

Since 1971, Médecins Sans Frontières has grown into an international humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization known for its projects in war-torn regions and developing countries facing endemic diseases, its doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators providing medical aid worldwide. These doctors and nurses volunteer their time to help solve issues of world health. Private donors provide about 80% of the organization’s funding, while governmental and corporate donations provide the rest.

In 1999, Médecins Sans Frontières received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its members’ continued efforts to provide medical care in acute crises, as well as raising international awareness of potential humanitarian disasters.

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