Brussels - Dr James Orbinski from Toronto, Canada has been appointed for a two-year term as president of the International Council of Médecins Sans Frontières. He succeeds Dr Doris Schopper, a Swiss national, who was twice elected president of the International Council and who has worked for MSF for sixteen years.
Dr Orbinski has gained extensive field experience with MSF, having worked as Head of Mission and Medical Co-ordinator in Somalia, Afghanistan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1992-1997. He was also one of the founding members of the MSF-Canada section in 1991, and vice-president of this section until 1995.
MSF is renowned for its rapid and effective medical response in emergencies, as in the current crisis in South Sudan, and for speaking out against abuses, as in the Great Lakes crisis. However, the world is facing new medical and humanitarian emergencies: "MSF has perfected the means to deploy quickly and efficiently, but we are facing new challenges: the rise in insecurity, resistant diseases, the lack of R&D in tropical diseases and the lack of protection for displaced or other populations in danger. All humanitarian actors, governments, the UN and even the private sector must face up to these issue" said Dr Schopper.
In this changing environment, the challenge for MSF is to strengthen its mandate of combining quality medical action with a commitment to speak out. For Dr Orbinski, speaking out for the rights of patients or advocating for more R&D into tropical diseases is as necessary as clinical care to really help. "We have a duty to face up to these new challenges, to continue to respond quickly and to provide quality and appropriate medical care. But unless we operate with our eyes open and are prepared to speak out when the dignity and rights of our patients and fellow doctors and nurses are violated, our clinical work will be nothing but a plaster on a gaping festering wound." says Dr Orbinski.
Médecins Sans Frontières works in up to 80 countries around the world, over 20 of which are in a state of civil war or unrest. There are 19 sections world-wide, with varying operational, recruitment, fund-raising and communications functions, all with a seat on the International Council.
Dr Orbinski will move to the international office in Brussels in September, where he will begin working as president of the International Council of Médecins Sans Frontières.