Save OBGYN's life

Saving lives under pressure

Since 1971, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in German: Doctors Without Borders, have been trying to help people in emergency situations. Doctors Without Borders takes action when the national health system is no longer willing or able to help those affected. This is mostly the case with armed conflicts and the consequences of flight and displacement, with epidemics and natural disasters. Our author, the general practitioner Dr. Volker Westerbarkey was chairman of the German section of Doctors Without Borders for four years. Here he writes about the increasing need and current challenges of humanitarian aid.

There are currently more people in need around the world than seldom before. Millions of people are affected by wars like in Yemen, Syria or the Central African Republic. More than 70 million people worldwide are on the run from violence and persecution or from despair and hopelessness, for example in Syria, Bangladesh or Nigeria. They are all in urgent need of help, because when they are fleeing they often do not have sufficient access to vital water, food or the necessary medical care. This is exactly what we at Doctors Without Borders provide.

Help after disasters and in war zones

Doctors Without Borders is an emergency medical humanitarian organization. As an international network consisting of 24 member associations, one of which is the German section, we provide help in around 70 countries worldwide. We help people in need, regardless of their ethnic origin or their religious or political convictions, and at the same time draw public attention to their situation. That is the mandate given by the founders of the organization in 1971.

A current example of our work is our mission in Mozambique after cyclone Idai in March 2019, as a result of which many thousands of people lost their homes. Our teams - always consisting of doctors, nurses and logisticians - were on site within a few days and, among other things, fought a cholera outbreak.

Médecins Sans Frontières has been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many years, including fighting the country's largest Ebola outbreak, which is still not under control. One of the reasons for this is the poor security situation in the region, which makes it difficult for helpers to reach people. In eastern Congo we are faced with an unprecedented quadruple crisis of Ebola, violence, malaria and measles - in a region where the health system is as weak as almost anywhere else.

Another major mission is that in Yemen, where the bitter war has been waged for more than four years. Around 20 million people there are dependent on humanitarian aid. MSF works in Yemen with more than 2,000 employees in 12 hospitals and health centers and supports more than 20 other facilities.

Doctors Without Borders donation account
Anyone who would like to support Doctors Without Borders can do so with a donation. You can use the following donation account for this:
  • Recipient: Doctors Without Borders
  • IBAN: DE72 3702 0500 0009 7097 00
  • Social Economy Bank
More detailed information on the use of the donations can be found at You can also donate online there.

Impartial, independent, neutral

The example of Yemen explains how important compliance with humanitarian principles is for our work: impartiality, independence and neutrality. They are essential so that people in need in countries marked by war and violence can come to us safely and our teams can provide their help safely and consistently.

Impartiality means that aid is only given according to need, without discrimination. Ethnic, political, economic or other preferences are not permitted. Aid that is not impartial, that is, that a certain group prefers to others, is still aid, but it is not humanitarian. Rather, it is done as part of a political agenda.

Independence means that our work does not depend on political guidelines, military associations or state funds. Because such dependencies mean taking sides or are understood as such by the conflicting parties. Our private donors alone make it possible for us to provide our help completely independently. Because Doctors Without Borders finances the projects from private donations, not from public funds.

Neutrality is particularly important for our work in Yemen. In few places this is as clear as in the city of Tais. There the warring parties face each other directly. The city center is an enclave of the Hadi government, which is surrounded by the "Ansar Allah" movement of the Houthis. We help on both sides of the conflict. In order for us to be able to do our work safely, all parties to the conflict must understand that we do not feel that we belong to either side.

Help on the flight to the borders of Europe

In addition to disasters, diseases and wars, helping refugees, displaced persons and migrants is an increasingly important part of our work. These people often suffer from extreme hardship and are particularly vulnerable when they are far away from their homeland.

We see this every day, among other things, in our projects in Mexico, Uganda and Lebanon. But also in Bangladesh, where one of our biggest missions was last year. Around 900,000 Rohingya who had to flee Myanmar from military violence live there in a gigantic refugee camp. In addition to basic medical care for the people there, we also provide psychological help and take care of better water and sanitation.

People in Europe also need help

But also in Europe and on its external borders, refugees increasingly need our help - often because of state policies, the priority of which is no longer protection and help for people in need, but rather the isolation of their own territory. In view of the many deaths in the Mediterranean and the state's inaction, we see it as our task to rescue people from distress at sea who are fleeing war-torn Libya. Since 2015, our teams have rescued almost 80,000 people from danger on several ships. But the sea rescue is coming under increasing political pressure from the European governments. That the deeply human act of sea rescue is deliberately hindered by them and that people continue to die on the borders of Europe is unbearable. For people fleeing violence and abuse across the Mediterranean from Libya, the risky escape is often the only remaining hope.

In Libya itself, around 5,800 refugees are currently being held under catastrophic conditions in internment camps, often in the middle of the combat zone. Our teams work in several of them and treat people who suffer from diseases and malnutrition as well as the consequences of torture, violence and rape. Just recently, around 60 people died in an internment camp in Tripoli that was bombed from the air.

The consequences of refugee policy

The terrible consequences of European refugee policy are also evident on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos, where thousands of people have to live in completely overcrowded refugee camps in unacceptable conditions while they wait for the asylum procedure. Most come from Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq. They flee from war and violence in their homeland. Our teams take care of these people medically and psychologically. At the same time, we repeatedly and publicly denounce the catastrophic consequences of EU policy for people - an example of the fact that we are also a mouthpiece for people in need.

Humanitarian aid for our future

In the face of global wars, crises and marginalization, humanitarian aid is more important than ever. At the same time, however, the increasing violent and political attacks on humanitarian aid show that humanitarian aid is currently being called into question more than ever before. We must resolutely oppose this trend. When we help people in need, we help the world, help ourselves that our future will be a better one.