Keeping pace with the pandemic: MSF’s global COVID-19 response

An MSF health promoter distributes masks to people going into the city of Zinder to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the city. Niger, August 2020. © MSF / Mack Alix Mushitsi

In 2020, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams pushed hard to scale up a global emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic in more than 300 existing projects and dedicated COVID-19 interventions in 70 countries. Our teams worked in both low- and high resource countries, in some places for the first time ever and in others for the first time in decades.

In March, we launched the COVID-19 Crisis Fund to both support our dedicated COVID-19 programs and mitigate the associated impact on existing health services. We are grateful for the incredible generosity of our supporters, who together raised $226 million for our global response.

Our COVID-19 response was threefold: protect healthcare facilities and medical personnel; treat patients in conflict and crisis situations; and reach people without access to healthcare, such as migrants and refugees.

In approximately 780 health facilities and 980 retirement and long-term care homes, MSF focused on ramping up infection prevention and control measures. Specialists provided staff training, set up patient flow and triage zones and installed hand washing stations. MSF distributed more than 3.2 million masks, gowns, gloves and other personal protective equipment to shield health workers and patients.

During the year, MSF teams admitted 15,400 suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients to 156 dedicated treatment centres and hospitals – from Brazil to South Africa to Bangladesh. Around 6,000 of these patients presented with severe symptoms and required oxygen support. Providing such specialized care was particularly challenging in conflict zones and countries affected by humanitarian crises, such as in Yemen, where MSF treated 2,000 patients at three dedicated centres and in improvised wards, training staff on the spot. In other places including Venezuela, where MSF treated 1,400 patients, our response was made more challenging as internationally recruited staff and supplies were denied access to the country.

As some of the highest-resourced nations in the world struggled to cope with the pandemic, MSF stepped in to boost capacity and provide care to people at higher risk, such as people experiencing homelessness, migrants, refugees and elderly people, in places including France, the United States and Canada. We also offered trainings and expertise, honed from decades of experience responding to disease outbreaks around the world.

From late February to the end of the year, our three global supply centres packed close to 125 million items for MSF’s global COVID-19 response, including personal protective equipment, medical devices, medication, testing material and specialized laboratory equipment. Most of these items were shipped to our projects in humanitarian crisis and conflict settings with limited local procurement options, such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Yemen.

For more comprehensive information on our global COVID-19 response in 2020, please visit, where you will find details posted in our International Activity Report.


In 2020, MSF was operational in Canada for the first time, drawing on our expertise in epidemics to provide two COVID-19 e-briefings to help medical organizations, government agencies and remote Indigenous communities prevent and manage the pandemic. MSF teams also carried out infection prevention and control assessments in homeless shelters in Toronto and in long-term care facilities in Montreal, and recommended ways to improve overall safety for staff and residents.

MSF’s Global COVID-19 Response in 2020