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Médicins sans Frontières and Medicus Mundi

Prince of Asturias Award for Concord 1991

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) is an international humanitarian medical action organization that, since 1971, has been helping people in precarious situations and victims of catastrophes of natural or human origin and armed conflicts, without any form of discrimination based on race, religion or political ideology. MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 in recognition of its humanitarian work.

Médicins sans Frontières

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It has its origins in an experienced group of doctors, mainly of French nationality, during the Biafran war at the end of the 1960s.

In 1981, it was the first organization to come to the aid of war victims in Afghanistan. Its worldwide fame dates from this time: the speed at which MSF becomes involved means that it is often on the scene before the press. Since then, it has spread its activities to every continent, with an especially important presence in Africa and Central America.

It has sections in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Greece and Spain. Each section is independent and undertakes its own projects. In 1991, an International Council and a co-ordinating structure (International Secretariat) were established, with headquarters in Brussels. The Presidency of the Council rotates on a six-monthly basis. Fifty percent of the organisation’s resources come from private donations and the other half from public-sector donors, noteworthy among which is the European Community.

The professionalism and effectiveness of MSF’s work is reflected in the prestige which it enjoys with both private donors and large institutional donors. The European Community systematically calls upon MSF to implement its humanitarian aid all over the world.

In disaster situations such as, for example, the earthquakes in Mexico, El Salvador, Armenia and Iran, the tsunami in Bangladesh, flooding in Bolivia, Peru and Sudan, Hurricane Mitch in Central America, the crisis in Kosovo and East Timor, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, MSF mobilizes what is known as the European Emergency Intervention Unit, in which all the countries involved come to an agreement in order to be able to work together.

MSF organizes dispensaries and hospitals, carries out vaccination and contagious disease prevention campaigns, as well as water and waste treatment actions and the training of local personnel. The organization takes charge of refurbishing local hospitals and training local health workers, so that, once it has left, the system will keep running. This action is carried out with the co-operation of the local Ministry of Health, but if some conflict or war prevents this collaboration from occurring and a given population lacks healthcare of any kind, MSF acts –sometimes even covertly– by virtue of the right to humanitarian aid. In 2014, MSF had around 5 million members and partners worldwide, with some 691,000 members in Spain.

Medicus Mundi

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Medicus Mundi is an international solidarity organization, with its own legal personality (federal, non-governmental, non-profit). It declares itself to be independent of the public powers and of any other institution or interest group of an economic, political or religious nature, being made up of independent associations. It was founded on 8th December, 1962, in Aachen, during a meeting between doctors and non-governmental associations in charge of Third World projects

The members, sympathizers, workers, voluntary aid workers, volunteers and organizations from the southern hemisphere with whom the organization cooperates share the purpose of “contributing to generating changes in society, fostering a culture of solidarity and commitment to citizens, making the eradication of poverty possible and enabling health as a right within the reach of all people”, which finds its justification in:

  1. A basic ethical principle of solidarity.
  2. The obligation for all stemming from the necessary recognition of human rights, beyond borders, cultures, races, sexes and religions.
  3. The conviction that the economic and social development of the poorest countries benefits the progress, peace and security of the planet.
  4. The conviction that cooperation enables the broadening and deepening of the framework of relations between peoples, facilitating knowledge and mutual respect.
  5. The need felt by the populations in the South to improve their health conditions and prevent disease.

Aware that the work of solidarity requires a great deal of effort and the capabilities of all, regardless of any manifestation of an exclusionary prominent role, the organization is committed to networking with other NGOs and actors in the field of development, each one acting independently and participating responsibly.

Medicus Mundi undertakes health projects in the South that rest on the promotion of local capacities. This means supporting the processes of training and empowerment of people, as well as the organizational and technical strengthening of their institutions. The organization likewise promotes decentralization and the participation of the beneficiary communities, stimulating local strategies and the initiatives of the various actors that make up the social fabric of the countries where it is involved. Medicus Mundi thus stimulates the creative capacity of people, making the most of all their possibilities and resources at the service of development.

In accordance with the objective of international solidarity and social justice that inspires its mission, Medicus Mundi works in 25 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia that suffer high levels of poverty, deficiencies and needs in terms of healthcare and in which they have built previous links with local communities or their organizations, thus adapting the actions that are promoted to local conditions and the legal context in force in each country. In the North, the organization’s remit is to denounce the situations of marginalization and poverty that it observes through its work in the South, identifying their possible causes and consequences. This denouncement is accompanied by continuous efforts aimed at awareness-raising and educating public opinion, with the purpose of generating critical consciences, stimulating attitudes of solidarity and enabling these to rest on firm convictions and informed judgment, thus assuming its work of social transformation and, at the same time, creating settings for the voice of the peoples of the South to be present in the societies of the North.

All this is done with the commitment to continuously seek the highest possible efficiency, without in any way conditioning effectiveness, and full accountability and transparency in the actions it undertakes so as to stimulate the involvement of all people in the process, in both the North and the South.

This way of understanding solidarity is at the origin of Medicus Mundi and is what led to it becoming a founding member of Medicus Mundi International, a network of Non-Governmental Health Development Organizations created in 1963 in Germany and officially recognized as a Consultative Body of the World Health Organization, and the Coordinator of Non-Governmental Organizations of Spain, among others. It may be said that the general aim of this organization is to promote health, without discrimination, transcending national frontiers and forming part of community development in those countries where it provides its services.

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