Conflict

 

Angola, 9 September 1999. MSF/Hans-Juergen Burkard

In war zones, MSF does not take sides. We provide medical care based on needs alone, and work hard to try and reach the people who need help most. If warring parties see aid organisations as being on one side of a conflict, we are less likely to gain access to those in need and more likely to be attacked.

One of the ways in which we are able to demonstrate our independence to warring parties is to ensure that all our funding for work in conflicts comes from private individuals – we do not accept government grants.

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.

Immediate response

Conflicts, be they international wars or internal disputes, can have many consequences.

Fear of violence or persecution uproots entire communities and, for those who stay, many are often left without access to medical care. 

Conflicts normally lead to a rise in trauma injuries, but also lead to problems for people needing normal medical care, such as for complications with pregnancy or chronic diseases such as diabetes. 

Psychological distress and mental illnesses also generally rise. Sexual violence is sadly all too common in conflicts too.

We try to fill these gaps with highly experienced doctors, nurses and logisticians who provide specialised medical care and logistical support.

Intense violence

During times of intense violence, our teams often have to work with a great deal of flexibility. In 2011, with ongoing violence engulfing medical facilities in Misrata, Libya, an MSF team had to find a way to safely and quickly evacuate a large number of severely wounded patients from the city.

The team chartered a fast passenger ferry, stripping it of its seats so that plastic sheeting and mattresses could be laid and IV lines set up. “The violence caused an influx of wounded people and it was fortunate we could be there and get them onboard,” said Helmy Mekaoui, an MSF doctor who coordinated the medical evacuation.

Despite the rough seas, the boat safely arrived in Tunisia the following day with 20 ambulances waiting to take the 71 patients to hospital.

MSF logistician, Annas Alamudi, said: “As far as I’m concerned, it was a successful operation and I’m glad we could help. There were sick people who needed to get out, and we got them out. Job done.”

Highly experienced staff

Working in a warzone can be an extremely frightening, stressful and disturbing experience. Because of this, we only allow highly trained and experienced staff who have volunteered themselves to work in such situations.

Paul McMaster, a British surgeon who has worked extensively with MSF, still finds high security missions challenging.

After returning from a mission in Syria where he treated the wounded in an operating theatre set up in a cave, he said: “I've worked in many difficult places with MSF – war zones like Sri Lanka, Ivory Coast and Somalia – but while in those countries it was dangerous on the ground, in Syria the danger always comes from the air.

“It’s a much more oppressive type of danger, having a helicopter hovering in the sky above you.”

Security

Although we accept that it is impossible to exclude our staff from every form of risk, we do our utmost to manage them through our strict security measures.

Before starting a new project, and throughout its run, we are continually assessing risks. Each field mission has specific and detailed safety regulations in place, outlining strategies and specific security measures and responsibilities.

Among these regulations, MSF holds a strict ‘no-weapons’ policy in all of our clinics, vehicles and health centres. For the safety of our staff and patients, it is crucial that no armed people are in our hospitals. Naturally we will treat fighters who need medical help, whatever side they are on, but they and their colleagues must leave their weapons outside. The presence of anyone who is armed heightens the chances of our facility becoming a target of violence.

Sort by:

Article
The battle for Raqqa ended on 17 October, and people left Raqqa city under frightening...
Crisis Update
MSF supports more than 70 medical structures – from hospitals to small health posts – located...
Interview
Testimony
"I have rarely seen so many people, hundreds of thousands, living in makeshift shelters, stranded...
Crisis Update
Since 25 August 2017, more than 500,000 Rohingya have fled targeted violence in Rakhine state,...
Updates
Article
“For many people, the long-anticipated return home is turning sour as they find themselves faced...
Updates
Article
“Fleeing Hawijah was so dangerous that people call it the road of death.”
Updates
Article
“An older man came and dropped to the ground on his knees... he did not know what to do anymore. He...
Testimony
"I’ve heard the most horrific stories from women who have lost their husbands just trying to get...
Crisis Update
Violence has led to over 600,000 people being internally displaced within CAR; MSF is providing...
Article
Testimony
Counselling and water will only get these communities so far, and while Marawi has dropped from...
Press release
“It is evident that hospitals are not safe from bombings in Idlib at the moment, and this is...
Press release
“People don’t understand that we don’t always have drugs; we need to use our own money to buy the...
Crisis Update
The battle for Mosul has taken a staggering toll on the people of Iraq’s second largest city...
Press release
“As we were facing a large number of patients in some locations we decided to increase the...
Press release
Updates
“Hundreds of thousands of refugees are living in an extremely precarious situation, and all the...
Article
For the past few weeks, Zemio has been a ghost town. Almost everybody has left, afraid of more...

Pages