Stern, Eric


Founded on December 20, 1971, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, is a non-governmental organization comprised of 30,000 medical professionals who provide aid to foreign countries. Those in this organization are volunteers, only seeking to cure the ill around the world.

When tuberculosis and anaemia became prevalent near the Aral Sea, the MSF sent groups of missionaries to care for those affected by the diseases. They were successfully able to give meningitis vaccines to three million Nigerians in 1996. In addition, MSF members condemned the Taliban’s neglect of health care for women in 1997. Of all the locations they visited, Sierra Leone was the most important. In the late 1990s, Sierra Leone was involved in a civil war as the Revolutionary United Front battled to overthrow Joseph Momoh’s government. While in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, MSF members helped with amputee surgeries and gathered statistics about the local population who were attacked by the Nigerian ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group). During this time, the ECOMOG were roaming between villages, cutting off people’s limbs, raping women, destroying homes, and forcing survivors to flee their territory. Because of the vast insecurity in Sierra Leone, the MSF struggled to gain access to isolated areas. Nevertheless, the MSF were able to collect data which indicated that many residents from all suburbs of Freetown experienced high levels of traumatic stress. Because of the increase in trauma levels, the MSF stressed that the only way to help was “to restore the bonds between the individual and their surrounding system of family, friends, community, and society.”

While injury and illness struck the Sierra Leone population, the MSF was particularly instrumental in restoring social order back to the lives of the local population. The MSF allocated some of its members to hospitals while others collected data about the population. The MSF created a psychological program in Freetown, in which they conducted a survey to collect data about people’s firsthand experiences. Though the survey alone did not improve the citizens’ current state, it provided MSF with an idea of what the people were suffering from. For instance, of those interviewed, 84% experienced an attack on a village, 83% an aerial bombing, and 62% the burning of properties. As they learned in their research, the situation in Sierra Leone was fragile. Following the civil war, the MSF created psychosocial and mental health programs as a means of curing the people’s trauma. By working to reestablish the citizens’ well being in Sierra Leone, the MSF created social change through the established success of their health programs.