, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 411-414

Surgeons Without Borders: A Brief History of Surgery at Médecins Sans Frontières

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Abstract

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is a humanitarian organization that performs emergency and elective surgical services in both conflict and non-conflict settings in over 70 countries. In 2006 MSF surgeons departed on approximately 125 missions, and over 64,000 surgical interventions were carried out in some 20 countries worldwide. Historically, the majority of MSF surgical projects began in response to conflicts or natural disasters. During an emergency response, MSF has resources to set up major operating facilities within 48 h in remote areas. One of MSF strengths is its supply chain. Large pre-packaged surgical kits, veritable “operating theatres to go,” can be readied in enormous crates and quickly loaded onto planes. In more stable contexts, MSF has also strengthened the delivery of surgical services within a country’s public health system. The MSF surgeon is the generalist in the broadest sense and performs vascular, obstetrical, orthopaedic, and other specialized surgical procedures. The organization aims to provide surgical services only temporarily. When there is a decrease in acute needs a program will be closed, or more importantly, turned over to the Ministry of Health or another non-governmental organization. The long-term solution to alleviating the global burden of surgical disease lies in building up a domestic surgical workforce capable of responding to the major causes of surgery-related morbidity and mortality. However, given that even countries with the resources of the United States suffer from an insufficiency of surgeons, the need for international emergency organizations to provide surgical assistance during acute emergencies will remain for the foreseeable future.