In the war-zones of Liberia and Congo, four volunteers with Doctors Without Borders struggle to provide emergency medical care under extreme conditions. With different levels of experience, each volunteer must find their own way to face the challenges, the tough choices, and the limits of their idealism. "Living in Emergency" is a window into the seldom portrayed and less-than glamorous side of humanitarian aid work. It explores a world that is challenging, complex, and fraught with dilemmas - the struggles, both internal and external, that aid workers face when working in war zones and other difficult contexts.Written by
Red Floor Pictures
Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, "MSF") is an independent medical relief agency, offering assistance to populations in crisis irrespective of race, religion, creed, or politics. Established in 1971, it has become the world's largest independent provider of emergency medical relief, operating in over 70 countries throughout the world. In 1999 it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its pioneering humanitarian work. See more »
Thanks to this documentary, you can see Médecins sans frontières at work in war zones without any promotional polish. You watch bullet wounds, amputations in progress, patients near death, and the agony of not only the patients but also the doctors. They are playing god every day as they decide whom to treat and whom to let die, or are forced to let patients die because the necessary supplies have, yet again, failed to arrive. One revelation is that just about all MSF doctors are chain smokers. Another is that MSF rejects almost all of the doctors who offer to work for it as volunteers. The operation is pretty much one big arbitrary triage, serving about 0.01% of those who need its help. In lucky locales (those with temporary clinics), everybody who shows up gets at least some treatment. Everywhere else (or when the clinics have closed), people just die.
The main question not asked: Then why even set up a few emergency clinics in places where medicine can't be practiced well and doctors suffer instant burnout? Why not instead organize airlifts to bring treatable patients to durable care facilities, and train barefoot health workers to reach, vaccinate, and educate the 2 billion people who need them? A couple of doctors gave partial answers to this question, inadvertently. One said that he keeps returning to MSF missions because only by fixing other people can he fix himself. Another said work at an MSF clinic offers him a way to escape from his home world.
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