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MSF History

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was founded in 1971 in France by a group of doctors and journalists in the wake of war and famine in Biafra, in Nigeria. Their aim was to establish an independent organisation that focuses on delivering emergency medical aid quickly, effectively and impartially while also speaking out about what they witnessed.

Three hundred volunteers made up the organisation when it was founded: doctors, nurses and other staff, including the 13 founding doctors and journalists. 

MSF was created in the belief that all people should have access to healthcare regardless of gender, race, religion, creed or political affiliation, and that people’s medical needs outweigh respect for national boundaries. MSF’s principles of action are described in our charter, which established a framework for our activities.

MSF’s first assignment was to Nicaragua in 1972 after an earthquake destroyed most of the capital city. In 1974 and 1975, MSF responded in the aftermath of a hurricane in Honduras and set up its first large-scale medical programme to provide healthcare for refugees fleeing Cambodia.

Based on the lessons from these interventions, MSF began to build its capacity to respond more efficiently to emergencies.

Since 1980, MSF has opened offices in 28 countries. Today, MSF employs more than 30,000 people across the world. Since its founding, MSF has treated over a hundred million patients – with 8.3 million outpatient consultations being carried out in 2012 alone.

MSF remains fiercely independent of both governments and institutions. MSF also reserves the right to speak out to bring attention to neglected crises, challenge inadequacies or abuse of the aid system, and to advocate for improved medical treatments and protocols.

MSF rejects the idea that populations in distress deserve third-rate medical services and strives to provide high-quality care to patients. Simultaneously, and with equal vigour, MSF continuously seeks to improve the organisation's own practices.

Over the years, MSF has received many prestigious awards in recognition of its medical humanitarian work. In 1999, MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Our charter

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is a private international association. The association is made up mainly of doctors and health sector workers and is also open to all other professions which might help in achieving its aims.

All of its members agree to honour the following principles:

  • MSF provides assistance to populations in distress, to victims of natural or man-made disasters and to victims of armed conflict. They do so irrespective of gender, race, religion, creed or political convictions.
  • MSF observes neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance and claims full and unhindered freedom in the exercise of its functions.
  • Members undertake to respect their professional code of ethics and to maintain complete independence from all political, economic or religious powers.
  • As volunteers, members understand the risks and dangers of the missions they carry out and make no claim for themselves or their assigns for any form of compensation other than that which the association might be able to afford them.