While you may not have heard of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), there is no doubt that the English-translated name Doctors Without Borders is familiar. A joint French and English organization, the nonprofit was founded in 1971 in France by a group of doctors — including founders Max Recamier and Bernard Kouchner — and journalists in the face of war and famine in Biafra, Nigeria. It was spurred in an attempt to form an independent non-governmental organization that focuses primarily on providing emergency medicine aid effectively, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, or any other identifier.
Today’s Doctors Without Borders is best known for its ability to go and implement projects in conflict zones and states affected by endemic disease. There is no political affiliation for them, allowing greater flexibility in caring for all of humanity, paying no attention to citizenship or socioeconomic status. Anyone threatened by warfare, illness, poverty, or catastrophe is able to receive treatment provided by a large network of medical professionals that have chosen to dedicate their talents and skills to the cause. What started as a few doctors volunteering their time with the International Committee of the Red Cross in the late 1960s led to an entire humanitarian organization being born.
What’s so interesting about Doctors Without Borders is their courage in sharing stories of injustices, questioning forms “of humanitarianism that would ignore political or religious boundaries, and [prioritizing] the welfare of those suffering” (Doctors Without Borders USA). At the time it was common for political borders and boundaries set by state governments to dictate whether or not an individual would be able to serve; this revolutionary, yet simple, concept allowed for doctors to go where the patients are, wherever that may be. Since its official founding in 1971, the organization and its volunteers have since helped out during hurricane disasters in Nicaragua, refugee crises in Cambodia, and more. Changes to administration have caused great restructuring and expansion of the organization over the years, but the underlying desire to be a reliable resource and a broad aid system has remained.