MSF’s humanitarian action in 2021

An MSF staff member vaccinates a child during a mobile clinic at the health centre in Sebeya, a town close to the Eritrean border in the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray. Ethiopia, 2021. © Igor Barbero/MSF

Last year, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) responded to some of world’s most challenging humanitarian emergencies – all of which were made more complex by the ongoing global pandemic. We also continued amplifying the voices of the communities we work with, calling attention to the underlying injustice, abuse and neglect affecting our patients. Thank you for helping to make this work possible.

As the COVID-19 pandemic entered its second year, its effects continued to be felt acutely in places where health systems were already fragile. We scaled up our activities in response to particularly severe outbreaks in some of the hardest-hit places, including in Yemen, Peru and India.

The stark inequity in access for lifesaving vaccinations was clear, as higher-income countries bought up billions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, leaving only a small fraction available for lower-income countries. MSF teams began working on vaccine campaigns in Lebanon, Eswatini and Tunisia, while continuing to call for vaccine equity, with an end to patents and monopolies on COVID-19 medical tools.

Around the world, extreme weather events became more destructive in 2021. MSF teams delivered emergency care to people affected by severe seasonal flooding in South Sudan, treated an unusually high spike in malaria cases following heavy rains in Niger and provided assistance for communities affected by tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons from Haiti to the Philippines. We also responded to the health consequences caused by a lack of rain, drought and deforestation in Somalia and Madagascar, which contributed to high levels of malnutrition.

The global migration crisis worsened last year, as nearly 80 million people were displaced around the world – more than any time in modern history. Millions more displaced people remained uncounted and unprotected.

Harmful government policies aiming to deter, contain and push back people seeking safety continued to deepen human suffering. In Libya, severe violence perpetrated against migrants and refugees being held in the country’s notorious detention centres forced MSF to suspend our activities in Tripoli between June and September. Horrific conditions left people with no choice but to attempt the dangerous crossing of the Med- Mediterranean Sea. In 2021, MSF maintained search and rescue activities on our chartered ship, the Geo Barents, as governments in the region continued to abandon their maritime responsibilities, leaving people to die at sea.

MSF witnessed a sharp rise in the number of people travelling through the Darien Gap, a dangerous and roadless stretch of jungle that serves as the only northbound land route between Colombia and Panama. Our teams provided treatment for people emerging from the jungle on the Panama side, many of whom had experienced violence and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs.

Ongoing conflict throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray region has resulted in widespread devastation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced within the country and into neighbouring Sudan, without access to clean water, food or medical assistance.

MSF’s teams have not been spared from violence. In June, three of our colleagues – Tedros Gebremariam Gebremichael, María Hernández and Yohannes Halefom Reda – were brutally murdered while working in Tigray. We mourn their loss and continue to seek answers on the circumstances of their deaths.

Between violence, access constraints and administrative issues, Tigray has been a hostile environment for humanitarian organizations to work in. From August, only one MSF section was able to operate in Tigray and from late November, none at all. We continued working in one region of Ethiopia and with refugees who had fled across the border into Sudan during that period.

Violence also spread deeper across the Sahel, causing waves of displacement throughout Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. Following a surge of conflict in Nigeria, thousands of families fled into neighbouring Niger, where our teams treated an unprecedented number of children for severe malnutrition. We also responded to outbreaks of malaria, measles and meningitis across the region – all of which are particularly deadly for children who are malnourished.

MSF’s ability to provide emergency medical care to people facing humanitarian crises is made possible through the incredible generosity of supporters like you. In 2021, more than seven million individuals and private foundations raised $2.78 billion to fund MSF’s work – more than 97 per cent of our total funding.

Thank you for being a critical member of our humanitarian action. In December, as we marked 50 years since MSF’s founding, we reflected on the changes our organization has undergone as well as the lives we’ve impacted over that time. With your help, MSF remains committed to standing in solidarity with people affected by crises wherever needed.

Ruby Gill, President and Joseph Belliveau, Executive Director.