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Letter to the Editor

Vol. 7 No. 1 (2003)

The Other Side of Medicine

  • Sophie Zhang
October 27, 2020


I was hesitant at first to join the Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) volunteer group here at McGill. I thought that I would be committing myself to an organisation whose humanitarian actions were solely medical-related and never crossed over to topics of injustice and human rights violations, which as many people do not realise is just as crucial, if not more, than needles and bandages. It is an honourable thing to save lives, but it is a crime to do it with indifference. With aspirations of becoming a doctor myself, I was not ready to promote healing with a mouth shut.

Luckily, I soon found out that in addition to providing medical assistance, MSF's main missions are to raise awareness by speaking out, either in private or in public, as witnesses of the plights suffered by populations around the world. As the world's most important independent medical relief organisation, MSF provides assistance in more than 85 countries, in the wake of armed conflicts, civil war, epidemics, chronic refugees situations, natural disasters and famines, while launching awareness campaigns and publicly denouncing acts that violate humanitarian laws. In fact, it is one of the first non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to have combined medicine with activism. Another important feature is its complete independence from all political, religious and economic influences.


  1. MSF Canada. The Work of MSF: Past, Present, and Future. Medicins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, Canada. 2003.
  2. Parry MS. Phyrric Victories and the Collapse of Humanitarian Principles. The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance. 2002.
  3. Macrae J, Stevenson F. Legislating for Humanitarian Aid. Humanitarian Practice Network Report. 2002; 21: 33-35.
  4. Center for Economic & Social Rights. Violations of the Right to Food by all Parties to the Conflict in Afghanistan. oc. 2001.
  5. Ignatieff M. The Stories We Tell: Television and Humanitarian Aid. In: Moore, ed. Hard Choices: Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. 1998: 291.
  6. De Waal A. The End of the Cold War: A New Humanitarian Dispensation, In: Currey, ed. Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press; 1997: 65.
  7. Bouchet-Saulnier F. Between Humanitarian Law and Principles: The Principles and Practices of "Rebellious Humanitarianism." Medicins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, Canada. 11D4-B2010060084A6370. 2000.
  8. MSF France, Chronologie de 1971 à aujourd'hui. 2001.
  9. Marschner A. A Scientific Approach to "Témoignage." Medicins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders, Canada. 11D4-852200902789187E. 1999.
  10. Melicharova M. Special Agents. Peace Matters. 2002; 38: 23.


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