Discover how we deliver medical humanitarian assistance
Our teams conduct independent evaluations to determine medical needs and assess what assistance to provide. Different criteria determine what we do, such as the magnitude of a given crisis, the levels of illness and mortality in the population, the severity of exclusion from healthcare, and the added value we can bring to the affected people. We regularly question the form, relevance and impact of our presence, taking into account what other organisations do.
Rapid and effective response to emergencies is at the core of our work. If mortality rates soar in just a few weeks, the main challenge is to save as many lives as possible in as short a time. MSF keeps pre-packaged kits so that teams can offer rapid lifesaving assistance - from surgical kits, inflatable hospitals to cholera kits. Our cash reserves for emergencies means we can provide assistance quickly, when and where the need is greatest.
Improving our medical practice is part and parcel of our ongoing activity. Medical guidelines for our teams are regularly updated to build on best practices. Our medical innovation has lead to significant improvements in the care delivered to people in crisis, beyond MSF. For example, changes to drug regimens for malaria treatment, the creation of cholera treatment centres for epidemic response, or the use of ready-to-use-foods and new treatment models to tackle malnutrition.
We are able to treat millions of patients each year because our work is underpinned by a solid network of supply and logistics. It is run on the basis that MSF staff should always have exactly the right materials for the job at hand, whether in acute emergencies when supplies might be needed within 24 hours, or in long-running programmes, where a steady supply of equipment and medicines is vital.
When a crisis hits, MSF staff already in the area will mobilise to provide assistance. More staff from the region or further abroad are sent if needed. In addition to medical staff, our teams include logisticians, water specialists, and administrators, among others. In some countries we have established emergency units. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have six different emergency units responding to crises throughout the country.
We attach the utmost importance to the quality of medicines used to treat patients. We strongly consider that any patient wherever he or she lives has the right to be treated with effective and safe medical products. We validate our medical supplies following a strict qualification scheme based on international quality standards.Read our medical and procurement guidelines
Our medical care is based on needs alone, independent of political, economic or other interests. On the ground, our teams are in constant dialogue with communities, local authorities, and armed groups, to facilitate access and delivery of the best possible medical care for patients and their communities. We do our utmost to minimise the risk for our teams through this constant dialogue and through the usefulness and quality of the assistance we provide.
Temoignage, bearing witness and speaking out
Our proximity to people in distress implies a duty to raise awareness to improve their situation.
Our teams may witness violence, atrocities, and neglect in the course of their work. Témoignage – translated as bearing witness – is the act of raising awareness, either in private or in public, about what we see happening in front of us.
At times, MSF may speak out publicly to bring a forgotten crisis into view, or to denounce abuses, or challenge the diversion of assistance, or to call out policies that restrict access to medical care or essential medicines.
In this spirit, we launched the MSF Access Campaign in 1999 to push for access to essential medicines, diagnostic tests and vaccines for patients in our projects and beyond. We funded this initiative with the prize money from the Nobel Peace Prize, which MSF was awarded in 1999
Logistics: the cornerstone of our operations
Thousands of logisticians on the field make sure that everything runs smoothly. From maintaining the cold chain during vaccination campaigns, to servicing vehicles; from organising the provision of water and sanitation in a camp to setting up a field hospital - logistics is what makes our work possible.
Our supply centres in France, Belgium and the Netherlands (plus their regional hubs) dispatch pre-packaged kits, supplies and medicines needed for treating patients and running programmes. They guarantee the safety of medical and non-medical supplies, and deliver what our teams need, wherever needed and when they need it.
MSF Ethics Review Board
MSF sponsors or takes part in numerous research projects in the field. Results from several projects have had substantial impact on global health policy and benefited people served by MSF and beyond. As a result, research has become increasingly integral to our activities.
We pay special attention to the ethical issues arising from the research in which we engage. This led to the the creation of an independent ethics review board in 2002 that evaluates all research proposals involving MSF.
Epicentre is an affiliate organisation we set up in 1986 to provide epidemiological expertise to our field projects. Namely: investigating critical situations in the field, in particular population displacements and epidemics; carrying out research on behalf of MSF in the areas where we operate; and training medical personnel in epidemiological techniques.
Learn more about how we work
Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF experience
In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid
Saving Lives and Staying Alive
The Evolution of Emergency WASH in Humanitarian Action
Medical Innovations in Humanitarian Situations
Critical reviews and reflection centres
With more than 40 years of field experience as an emergency and humanitarian aid organisation, and as part of our need to reflect critically on our actions and improve our ways of working, several reflection centres have been set up within MSF.
Their role is mainly to reflect and challenge the organisation on past humanitarian and medical actions, draw lessons-learned and ways forward for future operations, support advocacy efforts while also making sure to inspire debate inside MSF and beyond.
The centres conduct direct studies and analysis of MSF actions but also don't shy away from pointing out other gaps in the humanitarian system at large. Themes explored may include: migration, refugees, aid access and health policies.