Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a central role in public health by partnering with governments around the world to strengthen public health systems in various ways. The global human population has been growing at an unprecedented rate, which makes it difficult for governments to provide efficient and timely care services to citizens. This aspect necessitates the supplementary efforts by NGOs to bridge the many gaps in public health systems. In most cases, NGOs work to strengthen hiring policies, compensation schemes, and training and support programs. Additionally, they help governments with health management issues to ease such burdens, connect local communities to formal health systems and advocate for policy changes as a way of supporting government systems (Ghongade, 2018). Therefore, NGOs in the healthcare sector have visions and missions tailored to meet these requirements and collaboratively work with governments towards the achievement of common goals. This paper discusses Doctors Without Borders to investigate how this NGO contributes to public health and safety improvements.
Organization’s Mission and Vision
Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is an NGO that was founded in 1971 in Paris, France, to specifically provide medical assistance to individuals around the world especially those in conflict zones, affected by epidemics and disasters, or excluded from the mainstream healthcare systems. The organization’s mission is to “provide lifesaving medical care to those most in need” (MSF, n.d.). To achieve this goal, MSF teams carry out independent evaluations to determine the nature of the underlying medical needs and the most befitting type of assistance that could be offered. As such, the organization regularly questions the form, impact, and relevance of its presence in a given scenario by considering what other players are doing. During emergencies – which is the core of MSF’s work, the organization seeks to save as many lives as possible within the shortest time available. Additionally, MSF is involved in medical care and innovation as part of ongoing work to build best practices in public health. For instance, the organization has created various models to address the problem of malnutrition in various parts of the world. Another good example is the promotion of public health and safety improvement by MSF is the measles vaccination campaigns in areas experiencing outbreaks due to conflicts. In the first half of 2020, MSF teams vaccinated over 500,000 people against measles in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa Republic, and Chad (MSF, n.d.). Similarly, in January and February 2020, thousands of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh received measles vaccines to address this problem. The efforts to vaccinate populations against measles are part of the organization’s mission to promote public health and ensure the safety of all, especially those in conflict zones.
The organization’s ability to promote equal opportunity and improve the quality of life in different communities is highly dependent on its economic status. However, other factors such as socio-cultural and physical barriers play a major role in the achievement of its goals. Financially, MSF receives over 95 percent of its funding from individual donors. For instance, in 2019, “more than 6.5 million individual donors and private institutions (private companies and foundations) provided 96.2 percent of the €1.63 billion raised” (MSF, n.d.). Therefore, given that the funding comes from individuals as opposed to governments, MSF has operational autonomy and flexibility to achieve its mission without protracted political interference. Specifically, the organization does not take funding from the European Union and its member states and Norway mainly due to their deterrence policies on migration. It also does not accept funds from extraction industries, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, arms manufacturers, and tobacco industries. In other words, to address the problem of interference by donors, the organization does not accept funds from entities whose core activities contribute to conflict or affect the ability to offer medical humanitarian services. According to MSF (n.d.), “81% of our financial resources are allocated to fulfilling our social mission: 65% to our humanitarian programs, 12% to support our projects and programs, and 4% to awareness-raising, the Access Campaign, and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi).” The remaining 19 % is used on general management and covering fundraising costs. To address the issue of socio-cultural and physical barriers, MSF has an elaborate network of teams operating in over 75 countries around the world. As such, it becomes easy to mobilize resources and personnel to deliver emergency services when needed.
Impact of Funding Sources, Policy, and Legislation
The success rate of implementing and achieving the set goals by an NGO in the health care sector is highly subject to the interests of funding sources, policies, and laws in place in areas of operation. According to Campos and Reich (2018), policy implementation in healthcare is a complex process and it is dependent on the differing interests of the various stakeholders. MSF has clear policies on how to engage with funding sources and navigate the complex policy implementation process in the quest to remain independent in its operations. The organization has an elaborate funding policy that clearly states the roles of its funders. For instance, part of its funding statement reads
Internationally, government funding represents two percent of the total funds raised. Since 2016, we refuse to take funds from the European Union, its Member States, and Norway, in opposition to their damaging deterrence policies on migration and their intensifying attempts to push people away from European shores (MSF, n.d.).
Additionally, the organization has set boundaries and stated industries that it cannot accept funding from, especially those whose core business contributes directly or indirectly to conflict. MSF does not also accept money from any entity that is likely to interfere with its ability to provide its services to those in need. This clear policy on how to engage with donors allows the organization to run independently and make autonomous decisions to determine how best to use its resources in line with its mission. Policy and legislation in different countries are also bound to affect the organization’s operations. However, health is part of universal human rights and thus most countries will have laws that facilitate the organization’s mission.
The Impact of MSF’s Work on Health and Safety Needs
MSF’s work directly impacts the health and safety needs of local communities where it operates by addressing the underlying health issues. Services are delivered directly to those who need them most, which ultimately improves their health wellbeing and safety. For instance, in the Shatila refugee camp in southern Beirut, Lebanon, which has over 40,000 refugees, MSF has come up with integrated care measures to address the problem of non-communicable diseases (NCD), specifically diabetes, hypertension, and other cardiovascular conditions (Kayali et al., 2019). In 2016, glucometers were introduced as a way of dealing with diabetes coupled with the establishment of patient support education counseling (PSEC) to equip individuals with the requisite information to manage their health issues effectively. Therefore, it suffices to argue that MSF’s work has a direct impact on the targeted local communities whereby people receive the needed healthcare services and support.
Nurses could be involved with the organization in various ways including working in the field or in offices to facilitate operations. Every year, thousands of international staff members are needed to work with the organization and offer lifesaving services to those in need. Nurses play a central role in the provision of care services and thus their skills and knowledge could be highly useful in MSF. Additionally, according to Hargreaves and Golding (2019), “humanitarianism is at the heart of nurses’ identity and motivation to practice” (p. 49). Therefore, even nurses, who cannot get permanent or contractual jobs with MSF, could volunteer their services in areas where their expertise is needed within the organization’s operational framework.
As an international NGO, MSF plays a central role in the provision of health services in emergencies. In terms of public health and safety, the organization is involved in creating access to health services for the marginalized and those in dire need. For instance, measles vaccination drives in various countries ensure that people get the much-needed help to prevent the spread of the disease. The organization’s ability to deliver its services is subject to socio-cultural, economic, and physical barriers. However, it has elaborate structures and strategies to overcome these challenges and achieve its mission. Similarly, its financial policies ensure that donors do not interfere with its capacity to deliver care services in areas of its operation. Nurses could join the organization through permanent or contractual work agreements or volunteering.
Ghongade, D. J. (2018). Role of NGOs in public health. In S. Rawal, S. Gaikawad, S. Thakare & S. Khatri (Eds.), Healthy society for healthy nation (pp. 58-63). Prasant Publications.
Hargreaves, J., & Golding, B. (2017). Humanitarian nursing with Médecins Sans Frontières: The dream job. Health Emergency and Disaster Nursing, 4(1), 49-56.
Kayali, M., Moussally, K., Lakis, C., Abrash, M. A., Sawan, C., Reid, A., & Edwards, J. (2019). Treating Syrian refugees with diabetes and hypertension in Shatila refugee camp, Lebanon: Médecins Sans Frontières model of care and treatment outcomes. Conflict and Health, 13(12), 1-11.
MSF. (N.d.). An international, independent medical humanitarian organization. Web.