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Continued from Previous……
In this last part, we shall take up two topics; issues with MSF, and Issues faced by MSF.
MSF is among the largest charities with over 65,000 people working with MSF. It is working in 70+ countries and over 90% staff is hired locally. It is expected that an operation of this scale would see internal issues. Secondly, MSF works in many conflict zones thereby coming in conflict with warring factions and facing security threats.
Issues with(in) MSF
A July 2020 article by Karen McVeigh published in the Guardian says MSF is ‘Institutionally racist’, and it reinforces colonialism and white supremacy in its work. The comment comes from an internal statement signed by 1,000 current and former members of staff.[Quote] The statement accuses MSF of failing to acknowledge the extent of racism perpetuated by its policies, hiring practices, workplace culture, and “dehumanizing” programs, run by a “privileged white minority” workforce. [Unquote]
It is important to mention that the statement is signed by some very senior people including Javid Abdelmoneim, Chair of the Board of MSF, UK, Agnes Musonda, President of the Board in Southern Africa, and Florian Westphal, Managing Director of MSF Germany.
Christopher Christou, current international President of MSF has welcomed the statement, and given to understand that it will help to boost the efforts for a series of changes already planned in this direction.
A February 2018 report by staff at the Reuters said that MSF had dealt with 24 cases of sexual harassment or abuse among its staff and dismissed 19 people as a result. The report comes on the heels of a larger scale of abuse reported in the British charity Oxfam.
An article published in April 2021 strongly criticized the MSF stance on Brazil’s handling of COVID. MSF issued a statement declaring the COVID situation in Brazil to be ‘a human catastrophe’. MSF President pointed finger at the Brazilian Authorities for not adopting ‘evidence-based public health measures’.
Issues & Challenges faced by MSF
These may be divided into two broad categories: physical challenges, and ideological challenges.
Physical challenges include but may not be limited to the following.
- Logistic issues – transporting equipment, medicines, and establishing field patient care facilities
- Resources Issues – be they human, technical or financial, the resources will always be less than the requirement in today’s turbulent world
- Security Issues – personal security in war and conflict zones is always in danger. Violence against MSF staff happens occasionally, and staff deaths are also reported. Recently, three staff died in Tigray region of Ethiopia where armed conflict is raging between Tigray and Ethiopian forces. An aircraft dropped a bomb at an MSF field hospital in Iraq killing many patients and destroying the hospital. Landmines, cross firing, and armed violence does not spare anyone, not even the aid workers.
- Perils of Perception – MSF reaches out to people who are caught in armed conflict. Mostly, they get a safe passage to go and provide medical assistance to general population. However, it is not uncommon that one of the warring factions would not like their presence or may even consider them an ally of the opponent party. The MSF may get caught in the conflict inadvertently. The casualties suffered by MSF staff are largely due to this reason. Another aspect is seen in the Palestine territory. Some of the Jews consider that MSF is overwhelmingly favoring the Palestinians, and that it is aligning to their narrative. The website NGO-monitor is vocal against MSF on this count and cites details to make their case. They appeal to the world to stop their support to MSF. These are the perils of perception which may cause harm in some way.
On 6 July 1967, Biafra region in the eastern region of Nigeria proclaimed independence from the center. This led to a civil war which lasted for two and half years and finally ended on 15 January 1970 when Biafran forces were defeated, and its secessionist leader Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu fled to Ivory Coast. Many books have been written about Biafra war, its causes, details, and its culmination and what happened to Biafran people.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie also captured the story in her 2006 novel ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, which was later made into a Hollywood film. I happened to read the book as it came out.
MSF was originally formed at that time because some French doctors who were working in the Biafra region wanted to support the local people’s cause.
The purpose of showing this background is that MSF has been holding on to ideologies from the very beginning and continues to do so. Therefore, MSF is not just providing medical assistance, it is also working as an advocacy group. The two portfolios keep coming into conflict. For example, if MSF is providing medical assistance in a region and is advocating against certain practices in that country, it will not be accepted by the authorities. One live example is MSF advocacy about the right to safe abortion for women who get pregnant due to rape and sexual violence during war. However, not every country is willing to allow abortion if it is not provided in their law, which is mostly the case.
These ideological challenges may grow serious enough in some places to hamper the medical assistance work.
MSF is rendering highly valuable services to millions of people affected by various types of afflictions and crises. It is a cause worth applauding and supporting.
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Médecins Sans Frontières is ‘institutionally racist’, say 1,000 insiders | Humanitarian response | The Guardian
Doctors Without Borders fired 19 people for sexual abuse last year | Reuters