10 moments that changed us over the last decade

20 Dec 2019

Here’s a look at just a few of the humanitarian emergencies that MSF has responded to over the last 10 years.

2010 – Haiti earthquake

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

Men dig through the remains of a building in Port-au-Prince, where much of the city was destroyed in the January earthquake. © Michael Goldfarb / MSF

Just a day after the earthquake on 12 January, MSF launched one of the largest emergency interventions in its history. Hundreds of thousands of people were either wounded or dead and millions had lost their homes. In October, after cholera hit, MSF mobilised hundreds of staff members to respond – opening more than 50 cholera treatment centres across Haiti, launching widespread public education campaigns, and providing care to more than 100,000 patients.


2011 – Crisis in Somalia

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

Former MSF International President Dr Unni Karunakara examining a child for malnutrition in the displaced person’s camp in downtown Mogadishu. © MSF

A devastating drought, protracted conflict, a collapsed health system and restricted access for relief organisations worsened the humanitarian crisis in Somalia in 2011. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis fled to the capital Mogadishu, or across the border to Kenya or Ethiopia, in search of help. Weakened and malnourished, many were living in unsanitary, crowded conditions, with little access to safe water.

In Mogadishu, MSF scaled up activities, opening health facilities in 12 new locations. MSF provided services from basic healthcare to surgery, nutritional support, cholera and measles treatment, vaccinations and maternal care, and supplied relief items to displaced and local populations.


2012 – Crisis in South Sudan

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

Conflict in Sudan pushed thousands of refugees into camps in South Sudan. © Shannon Jensen / MSF

In Maban county, upper Nile state, an estimated 110,000 displaced people in four camps became entirely dependent on humanitarian organisations. However, the response failed to meet even basic needs, and in some camps mortality levels had reached double the emergency threshold by July.

MSF called for more humanitarian assistance as teams ran three field hospitals and seven outreach clinics across the camps, carrying out up to 8,000 medical consultations per week and caring for people suffering from the effects of lack of food and water and long journeys on foot. Staff provided treatment for malnutrition, skin and respiratory infections and diarrhoea. To address water supply, MSF also managed boreholes and hand pumps.


2013 – Civil war in Syria

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

In what used to be a chicken farm, MSF set up a makeshift hospital with an inflatable operating theatre – an efficient way to maintain a sterile environment. © Robin Meldrum / MSF

The conflict in Syria devastated what was previously a well-functioning healthcare system. With regions of the country inaccessible to humanitarian organisations, medical needs arising as an indirect consequence of the violence were largely unreported and unseen. MSF initially provided emergency and trauma surgical care in the north of the country. As the situation deteriorated, activities expanded to basic healthcare, mental healthcare, maternal health services and measles vaccination campaigns. MSF also donated medical supplies and drugs to treat communicable diseases such as typhoid, and chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes, as well as cardiovascular and kidney diseases.


2014 – The West African Ebola epidemic

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

An MSF nurse checks her PPE in the mirror as she prepares to enter MSF's Ebola treatment centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone. © Anna Surinyach / MSF

The largest outbreak of Ebola in history was officially declared in Guinea on 22 March. It claimed more than 11,300 lives in six affected countries in West Africa, including more than 500 healthcare staff.

At the peak of the epidemic, MSF employed nearly 4,000 national staff and more than 325 international staff. MSF admitted 10,376 patients to its Ebola management centres, of which 5,226 were confirmed Ebola cases. The outbreak ended in June 2016.


2015 – Attacks on hospitals

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

A missile hole in the wall of the Kunduz trauma centre after a sustained attach on the facility killed 42 people. © Victor J. Blue / MSF

In October, the MSF Kunduz trauma centre in Afghanistan was attacked by a US aircraft, resulting in the deaths of 14 staff, 24 patients and four patient caretakers. It had been open since 2011 and provided free, high-quality medical and surgical care to victims of violent and non-violent trauma. In the year prior, staff had treated more than 22,000 people and performed almost 6,000 surgical interventions.

Throughout 2015, there were 106 aerial and other bombardments affecting 75 MSF hospitals and MSF-supported facilities, causing varying degrees of damage. Of these, 63 were in Syria, five in Yemen, five in Ukraine, one in Afghanistan and one in Sudan. Behind each attack on health facilities are tens of thousands of people who are deprived of access to medical care.


2016 – Mediterranean refugee crisis

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

In 2016, night rescues became increasingly frequent with MSF teams going to the assistance of one boat after another in the early hours of the morning. © Kevin McElvaney / MSF

The arduous journey for the 21,603 people MSF teams rescued in 2016 began in countries from Bangladesh, to Nigeria, Chad, Eritrea, Syria and other countries in the Middle East. They fled wars, torture, conscription, forced labour, mass human rights violations, discrimination based on sexuality, violence persecution, extreme poverty and destitution. Regardless of their reasons, all those pushed to embark on an overcrowded and poor-quality boat were exposing themselves to a huge risk. The death toll on the central Mediterranean was higher in 2016 than in previous years, with more than one person dying for every 39 who survived.


2017 – The Rohingya refugee crisis 

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled from violence in Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh. © Antonio Faccilongo / MSF

A concerted campaign of violence unleashed by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya in Rakhine state from 25 August prompted more than 660,000 people to flee across the border into Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh. By the end of the year, this brought the total Rohingya refugee population to more than 830,000. Most Rohingya reside in precarious shelters in heavily congested settlements prone to mudslides and flooding, where the hygiene and sanitation conditions are dire. In response, MSF scaled up its operations by managing 19 health posts, three primary health centres and four inpatient facilities. Between July and December, the number of patients MSF was seeing increased from 200 to 2,000 per day.


2018 – Exposing the mental health crisis on Nauru

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

MSF was abruptly forced to leave Nauru in October 2018 where we had been providing mental healthcare to refugees, asylum seekers and Nauruan locals for 11 months. © MSF

After 11 months of intervention and without warning, the Nauruan government informed MSF in October that our services were no longer required and must cease within 24 hours, suddenly leaving hundreds of patients in desperate need of care. In December, MSF published the first independent report demonstrating the scale of the mental health emergency. Almost half of our Nauruan patients required treatment for psychosis. Of the refugees and asylum seekers we treated, 30 per cent had attempted suicide and 60 per cent had considered it. While most Nauruan patients improved under MSF’s care, only 11 per cent of refugee and asylum seeker patients did, demonstrating a link between their indefinite containment and deterioration of their mental health.


2019 – Search and rescue operations resume

10 moments that changed us over the last decade

Jay Berger, MSF Project Coordinator on board the Ocean Viking, prepares a rescued person to be transferred for disembarkation in Malta. © Hannah Wallace Bowman / MSF

In July MSF announced the resumption of lifesaving search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean, condemning the criminal inaction of European governments in the face of people dying at sea. Operated in partnership between MSF and SOS Mediterranée, the search and rescue ship Ocean Viking sailed to the central Mediterranean Sea, seeking to save lives along the world's deadliest migration route.