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Nine moments that mattered from 2021: MSF’s year in pictures

17 Dec 21

Nine moments that mattered from 2021: MSF’s year in pictures

From the Afghanistan crisis to the search for safer TB care, our teams have worked at their limits and beyond borders

Nine moments that mattered from 2021: MSF’s year in pictures

Throughout 2021, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams have been on the frontline of the world’s most significant humanitarian emergencies and chronic healthcare crises.

Countries around the globe have grappled with COVID-19 for a second uncertain year – one that has pushed many health systems, such as in India and Brazil, to breaking point.

The need for expert and impartial medical aid has also been driven by violent conflicts that, at the same time, have made delivering that aid complex and dangerous. The risks our staff have faced in Afghanistan and the Tigray region of Ethiopia tell this story.

And, worldwide, the obstacles to accessing healthcare have seemingly increased: the rise of vaccine inequality between nations facing the same pandemic; the abuse and exploitation towards vulnerable refugees and displaced people.

At every point, our teams have been working at their limits to provide life-saving care – only able to give it all thanks to the support of people like you.

In our collection of stark pictures from our work around the world, here are nine moments that mattered from 2021.

out-patient department in Batil refugee camp

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1 | The Tigray crisis

Clashes broke out in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia in November 2020. However, in 2021, the violence evolved into a widespread humanitarian crisis, as MSF teams worked to reach remote communities cut off by the conflict. In the middle of this insecurity, three MSF staff were killed in an ambush in June.

At the edges of the crisis, MSF teams also took action against rapidly spreading disease outbreaks in camps in neighbouring Sudan. Here, Tigrayan refugees are being hosted in unsafe conditions in need of both emergency care and clean, safe drinking water.

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A man stands in front of his destroyed house in the village of Bisober, Ethiopia Caption
A man stands in front of his destroyed house in the village of Bisober, Ethiopia
An MSF staff member holds a child while her mother is weighed during a mobile clinic Caption
An MSF staff member holds a child while her mother is weighed during a mobile clinic
An MSF staff member inspects the delivery room of the health centre in Sebeya town, badly damaged by rocket fire Caption
An MSF staff member inspects the delivery room of the health centre in Sebeya town, badly damaged by rocket fire

2 | COVID-19 in India and Brazil

In April and May, the world watched on as India faced a catastrophic wave of COVID-19 infections that collapsed the healthcare system and claimed the lives of thousands of people in just weeks.

In hard-hit Mumbai, MSF doctors and nurses supported the city’s 2,000-bed ‘Jumbo Hospital’, while health promotion teams went into vulnerable slum communities to distribute supplies and information to help people better protect themselves.

Elsewhere in Brazil’s vast Amazonas State, hosptials and healthcare centres began to run out of oxygen under the enormous strain of COVID-19 cases. In January, we dispatched teams to support the emergency response in the capital Manaus, while staff in remote towns days upriver of the city worked against the knock-on effects of the pandemic.

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MSF’s health promotion team in Mumbai using a tuk-tuk to spread information about COVID-19 Caption
MSF’s health promotion team in Mumbai using a tuk-tuk to spread information about COVID-19
Dr Sharanya Ramakrishna takes a swab sample at a COVID-19 health centre in Mumbai Caption
Dr Sharanya Ramakrishna takes a swab sample at a COVID-19 health centre in Mumbai
Doctor Ebel Saavedra and health promoter Uliana Esteves cross Brazil's Lake Tefé to reach the Abial neighbourhood Caption
Doctor Ebel Saavedra and health promoter Uliana Esteves cross Brazil's Lake Tefé to reach the Abial neighbourhood

3 | Conflict in Gaza

For two weeks in May, tensions between Israel and Palestine escalated into war, including police violence and a relentless campaign of airstrikes that devasted life in Gaza. It’s estimated that at least 250 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured. On 16 May, one of MSF’s clinics in Gaza was also significantly damaged by the bombing.

Throughout the clashes, we launched a ‘mass casualty response’ to assist the Palestinian Red Crescent Society to triage and treat patients and have been providing ongoing psychological support in Gaza’s resulting mental health crisis.

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At Al-Awda Hospital in Gaza, a specialist reconstructive surgery team from MSF prepare a young girl for an operation on her foot Caption
At Al-Awda Hospital in Gaza, a specialist reconstructive surgery team from MSF prepare a young girl for an operation on her foot
MSF staff working with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society to stabilise injured Palestinians in Jerusalem Caption
MSF staff working with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society to stabilise injured Palestinians in Jerusalem
A Palestinian girl walks through debris in Gaza City following intense aerial and ground bombardments Caption
A Palestinian girl walks through debris in Gaza City following intense aerial and ground bombardments

4 | The campaign for vaccine equality

In 2021, the course of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a worrying trend towards so-called ‘vaccine nationalism’, with widely praised immunisation programmes in wealthy countries rolled out at the expense of protection in lower resourced countries.

MSF joined the campaign to stop the UK government blocking equitable access to COVID-19 technologies – including safe and effective tests, treatments and PPE – as well demanding a legal waiver from manufacturers to make vaccines more affordable for at-risk healthcare systems.

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A demonstration outside the White House in Washington DC, calling for the Biden administration to ensure global vaccine equality Caption
A demonstration outside the White House in Washington DC, calling for the Biden administration to ensure global vaccine equality
A demonstration outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, asking president Pedro Sánchez not to stop the COVID-19 vacci Caption
A demonstration outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, asking president Pedro Sánchez not to stop the COVID-19 vaccine patent lift
In Sanaa, Yemen, MSF medics monitor COVID-19 patients in a specialist intensive care unit Caption
In Sanaa, Yemen, MSF medics monitor COVID-19 patients in a specialist intensive care unit

5 | The crisis in Afghanistan

The Afghanistan crisis has been one of the most shocking and widely reported events of 2021.

In August, the country was taken over by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (also known as the Taliban) after months of fierce fighting with government forces. During the violence, MSF hospitals were caught on the frontline, working through the chaos to continue providing critical trauma care.

Now, in new and uncertain times, healthcare services across the country remain fragile – in some regions, MSF hospitals are the only option available for people in need. As the emergency continues to evolve, our teams are now reporting a growing malnutrition crisis.

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Women and children at an MSF clinic in Kahdestan, Herat Caption
Women and children at an MSF clinic in Kahdestan, Herat
Emergency surgery taking place at the MSF-supported Boost hospital in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan Caption
Emergency surgery taking place at the MSF-supported Boost hospital in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan
Mothers feeding their children at an MSF centre treating malnourished infants in Herat Caption
Mothers feeding their children at an MSF centre treating malnourished infants in Herat

6 | The Haiti earthquake

Haiti is a country still in recovery from a truly catastrophic earthquake in January 2010. However, in August this year, a 7.2 magnitude quake again hit country – claiming an estimated 2,200 lives and injuring more than 12,000 people.

In the aftermath, MSF teams immediately began stabilising and treating survivors, as well as providing expert support to Haiti’s already overwhelmed healthcare system. We also began mobile clinics and dispatched a surgical team to help in the hardest-hit areas.

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An MSF physiotherapist working with a patient injured in the August earthquake outside Hôpital Immaculée Conception in Les Cayes Caption
An MSF physiotherapist working with a patient injured in the August earthquake outside Hôpital Immaculée Conception in Les Cayes, Haiti
Medical supplies, including tents and emergency water supply systems, are loaded onto a cargo plane in Brussels, destined for Ha Caption
Medical supplies, including tents and emergency water supply systems, are loaded onto a cargo plane in Brussels, destined for Haiti
The rubble of the church of Saint Pierre de Baradères, one of the thousands of buildings and homes destroyed in the earthquake Caption
The rubble of the church of Saint Pierre de Baradères, one of the thousands of buildings and homes destroyed in the earthquake

7 | TB PRACTECAL

In October, a cutting-edge clinical trial led by MSF successfully identified a new, safe and effective treatment for tuberculosis (TB) – an often-overlooked humanitarian emergency that still kills 1.4 million people every year.

The groundbreaking study was tasked with finding better medications for patients with drug-resistant forms of TB. These strains can be particularly dangerous and often require a gruelling treatment process that has been described as worse than the disease itself.

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MSF patient Vitalii Gorbachov takes his TB medication at his home in Zhytomyr, Ukraine Caption
MSF patient Vitalii Gorbachov takes his TB medication at his home in Zhytomyr, Ukraine
A supervisor at an MSF-supported lab in Sierra Leone reading a patient's TB smear Caption
A supervisor at an MSF-supported lab in Sierra Leone reading a patient's TB smear
An MSF nurse taking TB samples from a young boy at a clinic in Mumbai Caption
An MSF nurse taking TB samples from a young boy at a clinic in Mumbai

8 | COP26 and the climate emergency

The climate emergency came into focus in November, with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as COP26) taking place in Glasgow. MSF sent delegates to the event, while at the same time raising the alarm on the humanitarian impact of climate change and environmental degradation in a new report for leading medical journal, The Lancet.

Meanwhile, in our medical projects, MSF teams have continued to see the consequences of climate breakdown – such as in Burkina Faso where violence and a changing climate have helped drive a life-threatening water crisis.

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An aerial view over South Sudan's Bentiu camp – home to over 120,000 displaced people – where severe flooding has driven a huge Caption
An aerial view over South Sudan's Bentiu camp – home to over 120,000 displaced people – where severe flooding has driven a huge crisis
MSF logistics supervisor Mohammed Korma assessing solar panels at MSF's Hangha Hospital in Sierra Leone Caption
MSF logistics supervisor Mohammed Korma assessing solar panels at MSF's Hangha Hospital in Sierra Leone
Families waiting to collect clean drinking water at a borehole rehabilitated by MSF in Kongoussi, Burkina Faso Caption
Families waiting to collect clean drinking water at a borehole rehabilitated by MSF in Kongoussi, Burkina Faso

9 | Rising hostility towards refugees

Throughout 2021, our staff have witnessed the shocking and sometimes violent treatment of refugees and displaced people. From dangerous camps on the Greek islands to horrifying detention centres in Libya, across the globe we have treated the human cost of brutal government policies.

As the UK Government began planning legislation with the potential to cause more suffering to already vulnerable people, we launched a campaign to fight back against the inhumane ‘Borders Bill’.

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MSF's Mediterranean search and rescue ship Geo Barents reaches 99 survivors in a small wooden boat, on which 10 people were foun Caption
MSF's Mediterranean search and rescue ship Geo Barents reaches 99 survivors in a small wooden boat, on which 10 people were found dead
A new reception centre – described as an open-air prison – built on Samos island in Greece to hold 3,000 people Caption
A new reception centre – described as an open-air prison – built on Samos island in Greece to hold 3,000 people
Thousands of shelters were destroyed by fire at an overcrowded camp for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh Caption
Thousands of shelters were destroyed by fire at an overcrowded camp for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh