2015 activities at a glance:
patients admitted to malnutrition programmes
In 2015, MSF had 450 projects in 69 countries in addition to search and rescue operations.
MSF brings humanitarian medical assistance to victims of conflict, natural disasters, epidemics or healthcare exclusion.
We offer basic healthcare, perform surgery, fight epidemics, rehabilitate and run hospitals and clinics, carry out vaccination campaigns, operate nutrition centres, and provide mental healthcare.
Our activities include the treatment of injuries and disease, maternal care and the provision of humanitarian aid. Where necessary, we set up sanitation systems, supply safe drinking water, and distribute relief to assist survival.
When we intervene
MSF's interventions 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.
Here are some of the typical contexts in which we open a programme: (click on the heading to learn more)
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.
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.
When we close programs
The closure of a programme reflects MSF’s specific mandate to provide medical humanitarian assistance.
The decision to withdraw is based on our experience and analysis of the situation, and the imperative to make choices so that we can devote our assistance to the most vital needs. It is also crucial that a local or national health system does not become permanently dependent on MSF.
Where possible, we carry out a comprehensive handover process with national staff, local organisations and authorities to avoid the interruption of activities.
Should a conflict resume or if a situation again reaches crisis point, with no guarantee that medical and humanitarian needs will be adequately addressed, we will be ready to return.
Stable or unsafe situations
When a violent situation has stabilised sufficiently, and access to health services improves, MSF will close its programme.
We may withdraw our teams if a conflict situation deteriorates to the point of unacceptable risk for our staff.
In exceptional situations, we may also leave if our aid is being diverted away from the most vulnerable civilians.
Capacity and responsibility
When local or national authorities and organisations have the capacity and motivation to restore and develop a medical system that meets the urgent needs of the population, MSF will withdraw.
Likewise, if other organisations are providing medical support, we will assess whether our presence risks a duplication of effort.
A decrease in acute needs
MSF will close a programme when a medical emergency ends: when an epidemic is over, or when people have access to health services. We will hand over when the most urgent needs of people struck by a natural disaster have been met, and attention must turn from relief operations to longer-term development activities.