What is Medecins Sans Frontieres

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Where we are working



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Médecins Sans Frontières is the world’s leading independent organisation for medical humanitarian aid. Every day more than 24,000  Médecins Sans Frontières field staff are providing assistance to people caught in crises around the world. We have offices in 19 countries supporting these teams, including our office in Sydney. Every year around one hundred Australians and New Zealanders are sent to and supported in the field by Médecins Sans Frontières Australia.

Médecins Sans Frontières field staff includes doctors, nurses, administrators, epidemiologists, laboratory technicians, mental health professionals, logistics and water and sanitation experts. The majority of our teams are made up of national field staff from the countries where the crises are occurring with ten percent made up of international field staff.

In 1999 Médecins Sans Frontières was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

What do we do?

After the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, Médecins Sans Frontières teams responded immediately with life-saving medical humanitarian assistance. © Julie Remy

We provide relief after natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes. We help victims of conflict. We run emergency feeding programs during nutritional crises. We tackle neglected diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and kala azar; and we organise mass vaccination programs to prevent epidemics spreading. We are also involved in health projects that train local medical staff and put in place safe drinking water and sanitation facilities.

Independent and Impartial

Médecins Sans Frontières work is based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. Because we wish to remain independent we limit the amount of funding we accept from governments. More than 80% of our budget internationally comes from private donations, and in Australia 100% of our budget comes from private sources.

This funding structure means that our teams on the ground can be free to define operational priorities. Our interventions are based on needs alone, not on political, economic, religious or social agendas. Thanks to our independence and impartiality, we are able to provide health care to people who otherwise would not receive it.

Speaking Out

"We are not sure that words can always save lives, but we know that silence can certainly kill." - Dr James Orbinski, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières in 1999. Read more. © The Norwegian Nobel Committee

Our teams in the field often witness the result of conflict, neglect and disaster which very often escapes broader international attention. We are committed to speaking out about these international crises in an effort to alert the public to the plight of the people we help.

How we began

Médecins Sans Frontières was formed in 1971 by a group of French doctors who had previously worked with famine victims caught in the Biafra conflict (the civil war of Nigeria 1967-1970). The doctors were frustrated by the bureaucracy they encountered and degree of government interference in humanitarian aid. They aimed to establish an independent organisation that would focus on emergency medicine, speak out about the causes of human suffering and cut through red tape to deliver aid fast and effectively. And so Médecins Sans Frontières was born and, with it, a new vision for humanitarian response to crises and a new voice to speak out on behalf of the people in need of our assistance.

Find out more about our history

Where we work

Countries where Médecins Sans Frontières had active humanitarian projects in 2011.

Médecins Sans Frontières teams are currently in over 60 countries, working with more than 22,000 locally recruited national staff in conditions that are always challenging, sometimes dangerous. Wherever our teams are working their goal is the same: to provide essential medical humanitarian aid to those who need it most, regardless of race, religion, gender or political affiliation.

Find out more about where we work