The global independent, medical humanitarian charity, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has been awarded the Chatham House Prize, for its work last year, in combating the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
MSF was among the first groups to respond to the epidemic in March last year, and remained engaged on the ground throughout the crisis, caring for the majority of patients in the three Ebola-hit countries.
“MSF leaders and staff were persistent and forceful in their action to halt the spread of the epidemic and, as a result, were instrumental in saving thousands of lives,” noted a statement from Chatham House.
The Chatham House Prize is presented annually to the person or organization deemed by members of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, to have made the most significant contribution to the improvement of international relations in the previous year.
This year, members voted for MSF in recognition of its Ebola work, the first time an organization has been awarded the prize.
Over the years, MSF has received many prestigious awards in recognition of its medical humanitarian work. In 1999, it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Chatham House Prize will be presented in London in October, at an award ceremony where Dr. Joanne Liu, MSF’s International President, will receive a crystal award and a scroll, signed by Queen Elizabeth the Second, Patron of the Institute.
Previous recipients of the Prize include President Lula da Silva of Brazil, Burmese democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr. Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House, said: “I am delighted that [MSF’s] vital work has been recognized in this way.
“MSF led the fight against Ebola, by sounding an early alarm on its dangers.
“It put in place a highly effective operation that saved thousands of lives, and helped prevent a more wide-spread catastrophe, risking and, in some cases, losing the lives of its own staff.”
Dr. Liu said: “I am honoured that MSF will be the recipient of this year’s Chatham House Prize, and I look forward to accepting this award on behalf of the thousands of people who worked during the Ebola outbreak.
“This includes the doctors, nurses and logisticians who volunteered from around the world, and the thousands more national staff in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, who made our work possible.
“Knowing that they did this, while coping with the fear of Ebola in their communities and in the face of incredible stigma, makes their contribution even more remarkable,” she said.
Dr. Liu added: “While we continue to work on the ground, our focus is also trying to ensure that next time there is an outbreak, that patients get the care and treatment they need, on time, before it spreads and turns into a killer epidemic.
“But we all still have a long way to go, and it is important that we work together to respond to these challenges and opportunities.”
MSF delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare, and offers assistance to people, based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation.
“Our actions are guided by medical ethics and the principles of neutrality and impartiality,” the organization says on its website.
A worldwide movement, MSF was founded in Paris in 1971, in the aftermath of the famine and malnutrition in Biafra, as a result of the Nigerian Civil War from 1967 to 1970.
Three hundred volunteers, made up the organization when it was founded, namely, doctors, nurses and other staff, including the 13 founding doctors and journalists.
MSF’s first mission was in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, in 1972, after an earthquake destroyed most of the city, and killed between 10,000 and 30,000 people.
Today, MSF is a worldwide movement of 24 Associations, bound together as MSF International, and based in Switzerland. Thousands of health professionals, logistical and administrative staff – most of whom are hired locally – work on programmes in some 70 countries worldwide.
Since it was founded, MSF has treated over 100 million patients – with 8.3 million out-patient consultations carried out in 2012 alone.