Doctors Without Borders


Attacks on hospitals hamper South Sudan humanitarian response | 

South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.

The ongoing fighting in South Sudan continues to put the people living in the country at risk, as well as the people trying to provide humanitarian assistance. Its impact has extended beyond the young country’s borders and into neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Hospitals run by the medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have experienced attacks and evidence of patients murdered in their hospital beds. The challenge to provide medical aid coupled with insecurity and poor living conditions in camp are making for a worrying combination says the group.

“This lack of respect for medical care has deprived people lifesaving care at a time they need it most,” said Chris Lockyear, MSF’s operations manager for South Sudan, in a press call last week.

Equally concerning is what MSF sees as a lack of respect for humanitarian actors and medical facilities. On February 22, the MSF team working at the Malakal teaching hospital discovered fourteen dead bodies. The evidence suggested that they were shot dead in their hospital beds, said Lockyear. A similar report from Bor in December cited patients killed in their beds.

In another incident earlier this year, a team working in Unity State were forced to evacuate when fighting began to affect the hospital, leaving thousands of people with no access to medical care. MSF staff are back working at the hospital, but the situation remains tenuous.

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US sends ambassador to turn tide of violence in the Central African Republic | 

Displaced persons camp.
Displaced persons camp.

The specter of genocide and the public shaming of the UN have helped mobilize some international action in the Central African Republic crisis.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power arrived in the capital city of Bangui yesterday as a show of US support and with the hope of bringing an end to the violence that spun out of an ongoing political crisis. She met with people affected by and involved in the present violence.

Power announced that the US would provide an additional $15 million in humanitarian support for the Central African Republic (CAR). The former journalist who critically covered atrocities in Rwanda and Kosovo, said immediate action was needed to save lives. She evoked lessons from the recent past as evidence that the world cannot wait.

“Somalia taught us what can happen in a failed state, and Rwanda showed us what could occur in a deeply divided one,” Power said. “The people of the Central African Republic are in profound danger and we all have a responsibility to help them move away from the abyss.”
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Doctors Without Borders pulls out of Somalia after 22 years | 

Somalia - MSF distributes ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to families with young children.
Somalia – MSF distributes ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to families with young children.

The France-based medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced it was leaving Somalia after 22 years due to security concerns. The organization that provides crucial health relief in conflict settings has remained in Somalia through some of the most violent stretches. The announcement comes as a surprise and a signal that Somalia’s improvements may be more tenuous than previously reported.

Two MSF staff were killed in December of 2011 while working on Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu. Another pair of staff were released last month after being held for 21 months in south central Somalia after they were kidnapped from Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. MSF says the two incidents highlight only a part of the challenges it has faced in Somalia since 1991. Attacks on MSF staff, ambulances and medical clinics have led to an additional 14 deaths.

Medical programs in Mogadishu, its suburbs and in other parts of Somalia will be closed. MSF says its 1,500 strong staff provided more than 624,000 medical consultations, admitted 41,100 patients to hospitals, cared for 30,090 malnourished children, vaccinated 58,620 people, and delivered 7,300 babies in 2012. The cessation of MSF’s work in Somalia will have an immediate impact on Somalis.
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Doctors Without Borders criticizes Gates-backed global vaccine strategy | 


Bill Gates at World Health Assembly

The global health strategy to expand childhood immunizations, largely backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is too focused on new vaccines and neglects the fundamental need to improve basic public health and immunization programs in poor countries.

So says Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), aka Doctors Without Borders, in a new report issued today by the organization entitled The Right Shot: Extending the Reach of Affordable and Adapted Vaccines.

The medical relief and aid advocacy organization is critical of a new, 10-year, multi-billion dollar “Global Vaccines Action Plan” expected to be adopted by global health leaders at the World Health Assembly meeting next week. The plan is largely funded by the Gates Foundation.

MSF says it favors expanding access to new vaccines — just not at the expense of basic immunizations.

“Twenty percent of the world’s children aren’t even getting the basic vaccines,” said Kate Elder, MSF vaccine policy adviser. The Gates Foundation is driving much of the global health policy decisions around vaccinations, Elder noted, and “Bill Gates’ priority is new vaccines.” The philanthropy’s influence is distorting the agenda to favor new vaccines over basic improvements, she said.

Daniel Berman, MSF’s deputy director for access, cited a recent initiative to distribute a new $7-per-dose pneumococcal vaccine in DR Congo in the middle of a measles outbreak. Why, Berman asked, are donors and health agencies pushing this new, expensive vaccine in Congo if Congolese children still aren’t getting a 30-cent measles vaccine?

The approach appears aimed more at supporting drug industry desires to promote new products than at finding the most efficient and sustainable means for fighting the diseases of poverty, he said.


The Right Shot may be a new report from MSF, but it is hardly a new criticism of the Gates Foundation’s approach to vaccines. Others have criticized the philanthropy before for a tendency to place industry interests above the concerns of poverty advocates.

The Seattle philanthropy, though contacted in advance of the report’s release, declined to comment or respond today to the MSF criticism – or to the group’s call for a new global strategy with more emphasis on beefing up basic, routine immunizations. The organization sponsored by the foundation to promote the new global strategy, the Decade of Vaccines collaboration, also did not respond.

Jeffrey Rowland, spokesman for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, GAVI, did respond to the criticism. Continue reading

Owen Barder: Should we pay less for vaccines? | 

Owen Barder

Owen Barder, a development expert at the Center for Global Development, asks “Should we pay less for vaccines?

Barder’s post was prompted by the critical response some advocacy groups, like Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (aka Doctors Without Borders) made after the successful fund-raising effort on June 13 by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, a massive project getting vaccines out to poor kids.

As I noted at the time, these organizations and others were glad to see GAVI receive $4.3 billion in new funding but they felt the alliance was a bit too friendly to the drug industry and too willing to accept industry pricing.

This issue, of what constitutes fair vaccine pricing for poor countries, came up repeatedly this week at Seattle’s Pacific Health Summit. I intend to write about that in a separate post later.

For now, I urge you to read Barder’s excellent take on the critics of GAVI and the vaccine manufacturers. Continue reading