WC is probably too cynical to have very many heroes. But Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders in the United States) would be at the head of WC’s short list.
What measure do you want to use?
Charitable Navigator gives them its coveted four star rating, and reports that almost 90% of its revenues go to program services – delivery of medicine in the field – and only a little over 1% to administration. So as a charity, MSF is extremely efficient. When WC makes his annual charitable gift to MSF, it’s with the knowledge that the money is going to be used well.
The Nobel Committee thinks they’re pretty good, too. MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. In the 15 years since, MSF has only gotten better.
Their methodology includes hiring and training locals to help deliver services in afflicted communities. So when the emergency is resolved, and MSF moves on to the next crisis, there is a talented, trained pool of skilled workers left in the community. That makes MSF proactive, not just reactive. The usual ratio is 15 to one; fifteen local workers to each MSF volunteer.
The scope of MSF’s work is huge. In 2012, MSF teams working in some 70 countries around the world.
It provided more than 8.3 million outpatient consultations, admitted more than 472,000 patients for inpatient care, performed more than 784,000 prenatal consultations, and helped deliver more than 185,000 babies. Teams also cared for more 310,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and more than 347,000 malnourished children; vaccinated more than 690,000 people in response to measles outbreaks and some 496,000 in response to meningitis outbreaks; performed some 432,000 routine vaccinations for children and more than 78,000 surgeries; and treated more than 1.6 million cases of malaria, more than 57,000 cases of cholera, nearly 31,000 for TB, and more than 10,000 victims of sexual violence. Staff carried out more than 191,000 mental health consultations as well, while also distributing more than 197 million liters of water and 61,000 relief kits.
In the current Ebola epidemic, MSF is without peer. MSF’s West Africa Ebola response began in March 2014 and has consisted of activities in three countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. MSF currently employs 270 international staff members and more than 3,000 locally hired staff. MSF operates six Ebola case management centers (two each in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone), which provide approximately 600 beds in isolation units. Since the beginning of the outbreak, MSF has admitted more than 4,900 patients, of whom roughly 3,200 were confirmed as having Ebola. About 1,140 have survived. More than 877 tons of supplies have been shipped to the affected countries since March.
MSF’s governance is a model of its kind. Its volunteers select its board of directors; activities are coordinated among the 19 association members by five operational centers. They coordinate carefully, but the decentralized management system allows them to quickly respond to crises around the world.
They are strictly nonpartisan, which allows them to work in many war zones, delivering services to the displaced and injured by being absolutely open and keeping good communications with all sides. To preserve that neutrality, they don’t accept grants from the United States or the United Nations. They work closely with the World Health Organization and the U.S.’s Center for Disease Control, but decline financial assistance from both.
Almost all of the professionals who work with MSF are volunteers, who commit to a minimum of four to six weeks of service time.
So when MSF’s international President, Dr. Joane Liu, says:
We need to be guided by science and not political agendas. The best way to reduce the risk of Ebola spreading outside West Africa is to fight it there. Policies that undermine this course of action, or deter skilled personnel from offering their help, are short-sighted. We need to look beyond our own borders to stem this epidemic.
She means clowns like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christy. Their political antics are hurting the chances of keeping Ebola infections in the U.S. (and elsewhere than West Africa) to a minimum.
But that’s a side issue. WC is here to sing the praises of Doctors Without Border, the U.S. association of MSF, and Médecins Sans Frontières in general.
The organization, and each and all its volunteers, are WC’s heroes.
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