MSF was created by doctors and journalists in 1971. The organisation started life as a group of medics travelling to remote corners of the world, providing medical aid to victims of wars and natural disasters.
To read more about MSF’s principles click here
In 1999, in recognition of its “pioneering humanitarian work on several continents”, MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Read the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech
In 2004 the organisation was awarded the King Hussein Humanitarian Leadership Prize. Read the King Hussein Prize acceptance speech
Since the 1970s MSF has grown to become an international organisation which currently has 19 offices and provides medical aid in over 65 countries around the world.
MSF’s history in pictures
A group of French doctors and journalists creates MSF in the wake of the war and accompanying famine in Biafra, Nigeria, and the floods in eastern Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
MSF establishes in its first large-scale medical programme during a refugee crisis, providing medical care for waves of Cambodians seeking sanctuary from Pol Pot’s rule.
MSF conducts surgery in the organisation’s first major response in a war zone.
1979 – Competing Visions Lead to a Split at MSF
Led by Dr. Claude Malhuret and Dr. Francis Charhon, MSF moves beyond its modus operandi of sending isolated doctors to crisis zones in favor of creating a more structured organisation that can provide quality medical services in crises. Co-founder Dr. Bernard Kouchner leaves in protest and later founds Médecins du Monde/Doctors of the World.
After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the final days of 1979, triggering a war that would last a decade, MSF medical teams clandestinely cross the Pakistani–Afghan border and travel by mule for several weeks to reach injured civilians living in remote areas.
1980 – New Offices
MSF offices open in Belgium and Switzerland
MSF starts programmes to treat malnutrition in hunger-stricken regions of the country.
1984 – MSF Holland Opens
A new MSF office is established in Amsterdam
MSF is ordered to halt its activities after speaking out against the government’s misuse of aid to forcibly relocate millions of its people, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths.
MSF provides medical care in Honduras to refugees fleeing armed conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
MSF organizes mobile clinics and hospital programmes to treat citizens injured and traumatized in the fight between the government and the Tamil Tigers.
1986 – MSF Expands
MSF opens offices in Luxembourg and Spain
MSF brings mental health support to survivors of the Armenian earthquake and the following year starts mental health programmes for people in the Palestinian Territories.
MSF begins programmes in response to deteriorating health systems across what had been the Soviet Union.
MSF runs surgical programmes in war-stricken Mogadishu and aids refugees in neighboring countries.
In its largest emergency response to date, MSF provides care in Turkey, Iran, and Jordan to Kurds driven from their homes by the advancing Iraqi army.
MSF alerts the international community to widespread famine and opens programmes to treat malnourished children and adults.
As a vicious civil war takes hold in the country and the capital, MSF continues working in Afghanistan, constantly negotiating with the fighting parties to move material into the country and to get access to those in need of medical care.
MSF runs medical and mental health programmes in the region and provides assistance in the UN’s supposed “protected zones” of Gorazde and Srebrenica.
MSF remains in the capital, Kigali, throughout the genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis and “moderate” Hutus by Hutu extremists, and makes the unprecedented decision to call for international military intervention.
MSF withdraws its staff from refugee camps in Zaire and Tanzania, and denounces the hijacking of humanitarian aid by the perpetrators of the genocide who are controlling the camps.
MSF witnesses the fall of the UN “protected zone,” and speaks out against the subsequent massacre of some 8,000 Bosnians and the mass deportation and abuse of many thousands more by Serbian troops.
MSF brings medical aid to civilians uprooted by war and living in precarious conditions in the Russian Republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia, and in neighboring Georgia.
1996 – MSF Movement Grows
MSF-Norway is founded, joining additional MSF offices in Austria, Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, Greece, Sweden, and the UK.
MSF vaccinates more than 4 million people against meningitis and creates special centres to treat thousands more who become infected in a massive epidemic outbreak.
MSF assists Rwandan refugees forced out of camps in Zaire as they return home but is blocked by the Rwandan army and allied Congolese rebels from assisting many of those fleeing further into Zaire—people who fall victim to widespread massacres.
MSF expands its medical and social programmes in several countries to include marginalized youth.
Unable to ensure that medical aid is reaching those most at risk of malnutrition, MSF is forced to pull out of North Korea after three years, but continues to assist North Korean refugees who have fled to China.
MSF responds to widespread famine caused by civil war and drought in Bahr-el-Ghazal province.
After encountering numerous victims of sexual violence, MSF changes its emergency response protocols to integrate treatment for victims of rape and sexual assault.
MSF is honoured for its “pioneering humanitarian work on several continents”.
With millions of people dying every year from treatable infectious diseases, MSF starts an international effort to push for increased access to medicines for the world’s poor.
MSF provides medical care to displaced civilians in Kosovo and in refugee camps in Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro, as well as to civilians in Serbia.
MSF calls on Russian forces to grant humanitarian organisations access to the city of Grozny and denounces the aerial bombardment of civilians by the Russian Air Force.
MSF expands its programmes assisting asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants in Belgium, France, Italy, and Spain.
MSF starts providing antiretroviral therapy to people living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand, and the following year opens projects in Cambodia, Cameroon, Guatemala, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa, primarily using generic antiretroviral medicines.
MSF increasingly includes mental health activities in its emergency responses around the world.
Following 9/11, MSF briefly evacuates many members of its international staff from Taliban-held areas, relying on Afghan staff to keep medical programmes running in the initial phases of the US-led invasion. By November, however, international staff returns and programmes continue.
After the UNITA rebel army collapses and a 28-year civil war comes to an end, MSF treats thousands of malnourished children in areas previously inaccessible to humanitarian aid. MSF denounces the UN for prioritizing a political settlement for post-conflict Angola over the distribution of much-needed humanitarian assistance.
MSF’s Arjan Erkel is abducted in the Russian Republic of Dagestan in the North Caucasus, the most recent victim of increasing dangers faced by aid workers in conflict zones worldwide. It will be 20 months before he is released.
As malaria in several countries shows increased resistance to common antimalarials like chloroquine, MSF increases its use of artemisinin-based combination therapy and pushes for wider availability of the treatment.
MSF remains in Baghdad during the initial invasion, providing support to hospitals and clinics in selected cities. Later, MSF challenges the US government both for co-opting some aid agencies into the war effort and also for failing to uphold its responsibilities as an occupying power, as mandated by international humanitarian law, to provide adequate medical assistance to civilians.
During fierce fighting between government and rebel troops in Monrovia, MSF assists thousands of displaced people and creates makeshift emergency hospitals at the MSF residences.
MSF continues to operate and expand a host of medical programmes designed to provide emergency medical care for people caught in a conflict that has claimed millions of lives but still remains practically invisible to the outside world.
MSF is a founding partner in a new non-profit organisation dedicated to developing medicines for neglected diseases such as Chagas, kala azar, and sleeping sickness, and to challenging the existing profit-driven structure for research and development.
MSF starts nutritional programmes, water-and-sanitation programmes, clinics, and vaccination campaigns in western Sudan and Chad, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled violence targeted against them, in what is to become in 2005 and 2006 one of the largest emergency responses in MSF’s history.
Fasil Ahmad, Besmillah, Hélène de Bier, Pim Kwint, and Egil Tynaes are assassinated in Badghis Province. MSF leaves Afghanistan, after providing assistance for 20 years.
With humanitarian aid workers increasingly under attack, MSF decides that the level of risk to its staff is unacceptable and makes the difficult decision to close its medical programmes.
MSF receives $133 million from the public and asks people to stop making donations for the crisis, having received more funding than needed for its medical programmes in the region. MSF also asks donors to “derestrict” donations so they can be used for other emergencies; the vast majority agrees.
Drawing on derestricted funds that came in following the tsunami, MSF responds to an overlooked and neglected malnutrition crisis in Niger, treating 63,000 severely malnourished children on an outpatient basis with a new therapeutic ready-to-use-food, the first time it has used this treatment protocol on such a massive scale. MSF subsequently revises its guidelines for treating malnutrition to include this innovative approach.
MSF provides surgical, primary, and mental health care to people caught in the violence gripping Port-au-Prince, treating thousands of gunshot, machete, and knife wounds, and calls for all armed groups to respect the safety of civilians.
MSF runs mobile clinics to reach people trapped in remote villages and sets up inflatable surgical tents to treat thousands of people injured in the massive earthquake that hit the Kashmir region of Pakistan and India.
Unable to work safely in Iraq, MSF sets up a reconstructive surgical programme in Amman, Jordan to treat severely war-wounded patients referred by medical colleagues in Iraq.
MSF treats 26,000 people and sends more than 400 tons of supplies to respond to a cholera outbreak that spreads from the capital to more than half the country.
As tens of thousands of people flee renewed fighting in the north of the country, MSF reopens surgical programmes in north and central Sri Lanka after facing a series of setbacks from the authorities.
The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative and the pharmaceutical company sanofi-aventis launch ASAQ, an inexpensive and easy-to-use combination pill. ASAQ is not patented, allowing for others to produce it at lower cost.
MSF campaigns against Novartis for its legal challenge to Indian patent law in order to protect the production of low-cost generic medicines. India supplies MSF with 80 percent of the antiretrovirals needed for 100,000 patients worldwide. In August, the Indian courts rule against Novartis.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians flee the capital, Mogadishu, as the worst fighting in 15 years erupts throughout the city. Amid great insecurity, MSF sets up a surgical programme in Mogadishu, establishes a new project just outside the capital to provide assistance to some of the thousands of people displaced by the violence, and maintains medical programmes in the rest of the country.
With the proven success of ready-to-use food in treating severely and moderately malnourished children, MSF campaigns for others in the field to scale up their programmes and to adopt similar protocols. MSF pushes for food aid and nutritional programmes to include ingredients that are appropriate for the most vulnerable children—those between six months and two years of age.
MSF sets up surgical programmes in Iraqi Kurdistan to treat wounded civilians unable to receive adequate care in overwhelmed, under-staffed, and under-equipped hospitals in other areas of Iraq and continues to supply hospitals with medicines and equipment.
More than 150,000 displaced people attempt to survive in makeshift camps in eastern Chad as fighting escalates between government and rebel groups. MSF scales up its medical programmes and calls for a massive international humanitarian response.
MSF treats wounded civilians in the slums of the capital, Nairobi, and assists displaced Kenyans in internally displaced persons camps who flee their homes after disputed presidential elections lead to widespread violence.
Mohamed Abdi Ali (Bidhaan), Damian Lehalle, and Victor Okumu are killed when a targeted roadside bomb hits the MSF vehicle they are traveling in. MSF withdraws all international staff from the country and continues to run reduced programmes with Somali staff.
MSF runs mobile clinics, surgical programmes, nutritional programmes, and provides treatment and counseling for victims of sexual violence as thousands of Congolese in North Kivu flee increased and repeated attacks on their villages by armed groups.
MSF staff already working in the country provides assistance to thousands of people displaced by the cyclone while the government stalls on allowing additional staff to enter the country.
MSF provides medical assistance to thousands of Zimbabweans and other foreign African nationals when angry gangs attack them, killing 62 people and sending 100,000 more in search of safety. MSF speaks out against the inadequate response of both the South African government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
MSF treats more than 72,000 malnourished children as a massive nutritional crisis sweeps the south of the country as a result of drought, poor harvests, and soaring food prices.
After an cholera outbreak starts in August, MSF treats more than 65,000 people suffering from the disease over the next 10 months while also supporting government-run facilities with supplies, staff incentive payments, and treatment programmes.
MSF supports hospitals in Gaza following an Israeli offensive launched to counter militants firing crude rockets into Israel. After a ceasefire is announced, MSF opens a surgical hospital and also offers post-operative and psychological care.
Amid worsening violence and widespread displacement in Pakistan’s northern provinces, MSF provides emergency care at 12 sites. Security remains a constant concern, however, and some work is suspended after two staff members are killed in the Swat District.
Following a five year absence (see 2004), the organisation returns to the country and begins supporting hospitals in Kabul and in Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand Province.
MSF launches emergency interventions in the south in response to escalating violence and disease outbreaks, while, in Northern Sudan the government expels two sections and four staff members are kidnapped in Darfur. Some projects are therefore closed, but MSF nonetheless provides nearly 129,000 consultations and support numerous local health centres throughout the year.
After a massive earthquake hits Haiti on January 12, MSF launches one of its largest ever interventions, expanding its projects in the country from 3 to a high of 26, treating more than 170,000 patients, and performing more than 11,000 surgeries in the five months that follow.