In the late 1970s, in the wake of the Vietnam War, refugees were fleeing Vietnam by the thousands. One boat carrying more than 2,500 refugees hoisted a banner that read, “We are starving and sick. Save us, United Nations!” Led by future Doctors of the World founder Bernard Kouchner, a team of doctors set off on a hospital ship not only to provide medical assistance but also to bear witness to the refugees’ plight.
In 1980, Kouchner, a co-founder of Doctors without Borders (MSF) branched off to create an organization that advocates for a different goal—even in crisis. Doctors of the World provides healthcare solutions both in the United States and internationally long after emergencies have disappeared from the spotlight. We offer emergency and long-term, sustainable medical care to vulnerable people—wherever they are.
“We will not lose from our founders their assertion to the right to health and to intervene: the blend of pragmatism with advocacy that is rooted in our actions, and the liberal, creative way in which we seek to advance the rights of our patients to health.”
Throughout the 1980s, we were entrenched in conflict regions to run vaccination programs, train local nurses and doctors, and provide medical care in refugee camps. In 1986, the first clinic opened its doors in France to migrants excluded from mainstream medical care, and in 1989, our second clinic opened in Spain. This began our rapid expansion in the 1990s, during which time we launched programs in more than 50 countries and opened 17 chapters across four continents.
During this time, we continued to focus on the crisis within the crisis and dove into the complex human emergencies most would prefer to ignore. This ran the gamut of providing harm reduction programs to limit HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C risk in intravenous drug users to rapidly responding to traumatic events affecting civilian populations, whether related to conflicts or natural disasters.
Today, we continue to support over 400 projects operating in more than 70 countries. In the United States, we have launched a Border Health Program (BHP) in partnership with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso, and local organizations operating border shelters. This direct services program aims to improve health outcomes of migrants and asylum seekers in transit at the Texas border town El Paso.