The Impossible Dream of MSF?
Many people criticized MSF for not responding to the “humanitarian crisis” in Hong Kong. Perhaps we can find the answer from history. And the following paragraphs are taken out from my speech I gave earlier at Health in Action’s professional training workshop.
Let’s look at a paragraph of description taken from MSF’s website:
“MSF was founded in 1971 in France by a group of doctors and journalists in the wake of war and famine in Biafra, in Nigeria. Their aim was to establish an independent organisation that focuses on delivering emergency medical aid quickly, effectively and impartially while also speaking out about what they witnessed.” MSF Official Website
This description actually reads very similar to many other health organizations, such as the WHO’s at its very beginning.
We are not unfamiliar with MSF’s effort in contrast with the WHO’s stagnation during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa around 6 years ago. MSF also criticized the international response being slow and derisory, which was caused by bureaucratic health systems, lack of transparency regarding funding and many other factors.
Now, we must not forget, MSF was formed to provide aid and to emphasize the importance of victims’ rights over neutrality. It views itself not just an international organization but as an “international movement”. That means it emphasizes its agency over its role. It’s flexibility over its definite identity.
Over time, it has been seeking to fulfill its commitment to its basic principles and implementation in action. It does not want overly-decorated charisma and idealistically heroic, evangelical or partisan elements of humanitarianism to prevail. (Fox, 2014) But it is of the same reason that it got criticized for sometimes having to withdraw from extremely dangerous war zones. Members sometimes got disappointed about the organization became more formally structured, hierarchically ordered, and bureaucratic.
Historically, change only occurs if we can derail from the norm and the bureaucracy that comes along with it. It’s time for us to re-examine how flexible and perhaps fragile “humanitarianism” means to Hong Kong, and rethink how healthcare professionals are mobilized in extreme conditions to take obligatory actions outside these institutions.
By Dr Harry Wu