The French international NGO Medicins sans Frontiere (MSF, Doctors without Borders) has a well deserved reputation for being at the forefront of medical service delivery in the most difficult of circumstances. It was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. The judges chose MSF ‘in recognition of the organisation’s pioneering humanitarian work on several continents’ — more than 80 counties at the time the prize was awarded and tens of millions of people that have been treated. They have operated in Pakistan for over 30 years. The government has now directed that MSF terminate its activities in the northwest part of the country, a move which if enforced is going to deprive thousands of people of essential health services. No explanation has been offered by the government as to why the decision has been taken.
The move comes seven weeks after MSF was forced to terminate operations in Kurram Agency, also in Fata, and also a move made without explanation. The MSF country representative in Pakistan has said he is ‘extremely disappointed’ by the move. It is Bajaur Agency that is to suffer this time and this means that MSF has been completely excluded from Fata which by common agreement is a part of the country where health services are woefully inadequate.
Supporting services have been supplied by MSF at a local hospital in Bajaur since 2013. All those working for MSF are locally employed and there are no foreign nationals posted there. The agency worked closely with local governmental service providers as it does everywhere else that it operates in the country. The refusal to issue a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) to MSF is said to mystify them as much as it does the rest of the international NGO community in-country. It is conceivable that there is a back-story that is not in the public domain, but if so then it needs to be revealed because many thousands of people are about to lose their primary healthcare that is provided free at point of need and all for no apparent reason. Both answers and a reversal of the decision would be welcome. Quickly.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2017.