Opening a programme

MSF programmes involve medical teams addressing the most urgent health needs of people in crisis.

Our teams conduct independent evaluations to determine medical needs before deciding to open a programme. We analyse what assistance we can potentially bring, and we regularly question the pertinence of our presence or absence. We retain continuous and direct control over the management and delivery of our assistance for the duration of our activities.

Armed conflict

People caught up in armed conflict may be subject to harassment, displacement, violent attacks, rape or murder. In such situations comprehensive medical and humanitarian support is vital, but health services are often scarce.

When hospitals and clinics are destroyed or overwhelmed, MSF provides healthcare and support. Teams set up operating theatres, clinics, public hygiene assistance, nutrition programmes, epidemic control and mental health services to people displaced by fighting or living in conflict zones.

Natural disasters

People affected by a natural disaster require an immediate medical response. Many may be injured or cut off from health services. Many more may have lost family, friends, their homes or belongings.

Needs must be quickly identified, but accessing a disaster area can be complex. MSF keeps pre-packaged kits so that teams can offer rapid lifesaving assistance. The teams can provide surgery, psychosocial support, nutritional support and relief items such as blankets, tents, and cooking and washing materials.

We also take preventive action to help control the risk of epidemics, setting up safe water supplies, sanitation systems and conducting vaccination campaigns.

Endemic and epidemic disease

Outbreaks of cholera, measles and meningitis can spread rapidly, and are a particular risk where living conditions are poor. Malaria is endemic in more than 100 countries. Millions are living with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and hundreds of thousands of people are infected with lesser-known but no less serious diseases such as kala azar, sleeping sickness and Chagas. Viral haemorrhagic diseases such as Ebola or Marburg are rarer, but are potentially fatal.

When local health centres and hospitals are stretched beyond capacity, MSF can bring support. Collaboration with local governments and authorities enables a more rapid response to urgent crises. We work in existing medical centres or set up new structures if needed, providing treatment and developing prevention programmes for the most vulnerable.

During outbreaks of highly contagious diseases like measles and meningitis, prevention often means vaccination. Awareness-raising is also important so that people know about the risks of the disease and how to help prevent its spread. We conduct community health education programmes and offer training to local staff.

Social violence and healthcare exclusion

Many people are unable to access healthcare simply because of who they are. They may be afraid to seek help, or the healthcare system may deliberately exclude them.

MSF teams provide medical, psychological and social support to people cut off from health services. Our work also involves drawing attention to the obstacles our patients face in accessing healthcare. We push local authorities and civil society organisations to improve access to services and increase social acceptance.