Médecins Sans Frontières

During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970, the Nigerian military formed a blockade around the nation's newly independent south–eastern region, Biafra. At this time, France was one of the only major countries supportive of the Biafrans; the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States sided with the Nigerian government, and the conditions within the blockade were unknown to the world. A number of French doctors volunteered with the French Red Cross to work in hospitals and feeding centres in Biafra. One of the co–founders of the organisation was Bernard Kouchner, who later became a high–ranking French politician.

After entering the country, the volunteers, along with Biafran health workers and hospitals, were subjected to attacks by the Nigerian army, and witnessed civilians being murdered and starved by the blockading forces. The doctors publicly criticised the Nigerian government and the Red Cross for their seemingly complicit behaviour. These doctors concluded that there was a need for a new aid organisation that would ignore political and religious boundaries and prioritise the welfare of victims.

MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, in recognition of its members' continued efforts to provide medical care in acute crises, as well as raising international awareness of potential humanitarian disasters.

The name of the organisation was clearly inspired by Jeux Sans Frontières, the Europe–wide television game show that was broadcast from 1965 to 1999 under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union – known in the UK as It's a Knockout. The name of Médecins Sans Frontières is often rendered in English as 'Doctors Without Borders'.

© Haydn Thompson 2020