Principles

© Matthias Steinbach

 

It is easy to write inspiring words to define an organisation's mission – it is much harder to put those principles in to practice. At the core of MSF's identity is a commitment to our principles and core values. These ideals often require painful decisions, but they have driven every aspect of our work – from medical care and logistics to finance and communications – since MSF was established in 1971.

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Our commitment to the principles, and the impact of the organisation built on them, was recognised in 1999 when MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Priniciples and core values

 

Impartial

We provide free medical care to people who need it the most. It doesn’t matter which country they are from, and regardless of their race, gender, as well as their political, economic or religious stances and interests. We give priority to those in the most serious and immediate danger.  

 

Neutral

We do not take sides nor support the agendas in armed conflicts, but go where people's medical needs are greatest. Sometimes we are not present on all sides to the conflict; this may be because access is denied to us, or due to insecurity, or because the main needs of the people are already covered. 

In MSF field hospital, it is not unusual that wounded civilians are alongside injured soldiers from opposing sides. Arms and weapons have to be left at the gate.

 

Independent

We rarely take funds from governments for our work, but rely mainly on the generosity of individual members of the public. Over 90 percent of our fund comes from private donors giving small amounts. Our financial independence also means the aid we provide cannot be used to further any government's political or military goals.

We strive to ensure the evaluation of medical needs, and access people are without restrictions. This means that when there is an emergency, we can act fast by making use of the private donations to save lives, based on the independent assessment of people's needs.

 

Medical ethics

MSF's actions are first and foremost medical. We carry out our work with respect for the rules of medical ethics, in particular the duty to provide care without causing harm to individuals or groups. We respect patients' autonomy, confidentiality and right to informed consent. We treat our patients with dignity, and with respect for their cultural and religious beliefs. In accordance with these principles, MSF endeavours to provide high quality medical care to all patients. 

 

Bearing witness

Temoignage is done with the intention of improving the situation for populations in danger. When MSF witnesses mass violations of human rights, for example genocide, war crimes, forced return of refugees, we may speak out publicly. 

In exceptional cases, it may be in the best interests of the victims for MSF to provide assistance without speaking out publicly or to denounce without providing assistance, for example when humanitarian aid is manipulated.

 

Accountability and Improvement

We believe it is important that we are honest about the difficulties of delivering medical care under emergency situations, and we don't always get it right. Therefore, we continually reflect and seek to get better. We are committed to regularly evaluating the effects of our activities, and account for our actions to our patients and donors.