Geneva - During the International Council meeting of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Amsterdam this weekend, Dr. Unni Karunakara has been installed as the new International President of the medical humanitarian organisation. He takes over from Dr. Christophe Fournier, and will head MSF’s worldwide movement, which includes 19 national associations and branch offices in other countries, for the next three years.
“I am honoured to be elected for such an important role in the MSF movement and to contribute to strategic choices that face our organisation,” said Dr Karunakara. “We are confronted with many challenges in the provision of crucial medical assistance to people who are trapped by conflict or suffer the consequences of disasters, disease outbreaks or neglect.
“MSF will remain relevant for the survival of large numbers of people, if we manage to constantly adapt our organisation to new realities. The members of MSF’s associative platforms, including the International Council, are important for setting out the organisation’s general directions. I look forward to making my contribution.”
Dr Unni Krishnan Karunakara first became involved with MSF in 1995, when he was tasked with setting up a tuberculosis control programme in Jijiga, Ethiopia. He went on to become Medical Coordinator for MSF’s activities in Azerbaijan, providing basic health care services to forced migrants from Nagorno-Karabakh, in Brazil for health care aimed at the indigenous population in the Amazonas province, and for a sleeping sickness programme in the Republic of Congo.
In 2002, Dr Karunakara joined the Public Health Department of MSF in Amsterdam, advising country programmes in the Middle East, southern Africa and south and central America, and three years later became Medical Director for of MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. In 2007, he was part of the medical emergency response team that treated victims of cyclone Sidr in Mathbaria, Bangladesh.
Dr Karunakara received his medical degree from Kasturba Medical College in India and degrees in public health from Yale and Johns Hopkins Universities in the United States. He has held various academic and research fellowships at universities in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Germany and the United Kingdom, focusing on the demography of forced migration and the delivery of health care to neglected populations affected by conflict, disasters and epidemics.
Since 2008, Dr Karunakara worked at Columbia University, USA, as Deputy Director of Health for the Millennium Villages Project at the Earth Institute, and has been an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Mailman School of Public Health.
As President, Dr Karunakara will be based at MSF’s International Office in Geneva, Switzerland, where he will work alongside the organisation’s Secretary General, Kris Torgeson.