Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), as it is more officially known throughout the world, is a charitable organization that sends doctors to poor countries, war torn regions, and disaster areas to provide medical assistance to those suffering. The organization began in 1971 with a group of French doctors who felt the dire need for more medical expertise in countries with little money or experience to provide such.
Since 1971, members of Doctors Without Borders have assisted people in numerous charitable ways. Its first mission was providing humanitarian and medical aid to victims of the 1972 earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua. The group has also been recognized for its extraordinary contributions by winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.
In addition to providing emergency medical care after natural disasters, Doctors Without Borders has often intervened to help victims in areas where war or genocide exists. MSF organized refugee camp medical centers for Cambodians fleeing to Thailand in 1975. It also assisted in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War. In the 1990s, in addition to providing medical assistance, the organization began to actively campaign for getting supplies of medication, vaccinations, and basic medical kits to countries where little medical help exists for most of the population. They also train local medical staff and help offer education to provide better sanitation in hospitals in numerous countries.
Doctors Without Borders is non-sectarian, and therefore doesn’t take sides in treating patients. Clinics will treat any person in dire need of medical care. Yet, despite their efforts, many people still go without medical care, especially for rare medical conditions.
In some cases, Doctors Without Borders will set up special medical missions, with specialist physicians to treat congenital disorders like heart defects. Often however, the humanitarian aid has to be restricted to funding and a limited supply of doctors to treat an almost unlimited supply of people with disease or injury.
The organization has 19 participating countries. Among them, only the chapters in Belgium, France, Holland, Spain and Switzerland have the authority to decide where medical missions will take place. Further, those volunteering are not the countries themselves but individual citizens. As well, 80% of donations to Doctors Without Borders are made by individuals, which allow the organization to stay free of special interests.
Doctors Without Borders is also considered to be a very effective charity because almost 86% of their charitable donations are used for program services. Approximately 13% of the money is devoted to fundraising. About 1% pays for management and general services. Therefore, when one donates to MSF, one can be assured one’s donation will be used with great care. Doctors Without Borders also makes their financial information quite public; it is even accessible on the Internet.
A variety of people may work in an MSF clinic or go on an MSF mission. The organization actively seeks physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists and other mental health specialists, lab scientists and technicians, anesthesiologists, and epidemiologists. Many physicians report great satisfaction in serving on a team, but further also report that more need exists than can be filled by Doctors Without Borders. Therefore, many who volunteer their time for missions also devote their time in garnering further support for this extraordinarily important and life-saving work.