How we work

It is easy to write inspiring words to define an organisation’s mission – it is much harder to put those principals in to practice. At the core of MSF’s identity is a commitment to independence, neutrality and impartiality.

These ideals have driven every aspect of our work – from medical care and logistics to finance and communications – since MSF was established in 1971. Our commitment to these principals, and the impact of the organisation built on them, was recognised in 1999 when MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


We provide free medical care to people who need it. It doesn’t matter which country they are from, which religion they belong to, or what their political affiliations are. All that matters is they are human beings in need.


In a conflict situation, we don’t take sides, but go where people’s medical needs are greatest. In the ward of one MSF field hospital, you might find wounded civilians alongside injured soldiers from opposing sides. Hostilities and weapons have to be left at the gate.


We rarely take funds from governments, businesses or institutions for our work, but rely mainly on the generosity of individual members of the public. Over 90 percent of our income comes from private donors giving small amounts. This means that when there is an emergency, we don’t need to wait for official funds to be released or for the media to generate interest; we can act fast to save people’s lives based on need alone.

Our financial independence also means the aid we provide cannot be used to further any government’s political or military goals.


Wherever we are working, we make sure that local people understand that MSF is politically neutral and will provide assistance to anyone who needs it. We run radio campaigns and hold meetings with everyone from government ministers to local warlords, community elders to women’s groups. Gaining their acceptance is key to our being able to work in difficult environments such as Afghanistan or Democratic Republic of Congo.


MSF is an outspoken organisation – we expect and demand high standards from ourselves and other organisations. We speak out if we think other humanitarian organisations are being dishonest, compromised or slow to react. But we also examine and critique our own performance.

Nobel Peace Prize

Over the years, MSF has received many prestigious awards in recognition of its medical humanitarian work. In 1999, MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize. The judges chose MSF “in recognition of the organization’s pioneering humanitarian work on several continents” and to honor our medical staff, who have worked in more than 80 countries and treated tens of millions of people.

The proceeds from the prize were used to set up a Neglected Disease Fund, designed to support pilot projects for the clinical development, production, procurement and distribution of treatments for neglected diseases, such as Chagas, sleeping sickness and malaria.