How awesome are Doctors Without Borders?

Doctors without Borders, often known under its French name Médecins sans frontières (MSF) is an international NGO which seeks to provide medical support in regions struck by crises, including war, natural disasters or epidemics. MSF is currently operating (literally and figuratively) in 60 countries around the globe and also engages in the provision of medicine and medical research. Recent research includes papers like Effect of Mass Supplementation with Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food during an Anticipated Nutritional Emergency or Integrating mental health into primary care for displaced populations: the experience of Mindanao, Philippines.


Over 90 per cent of the funding of Doctors without Borders comes from private donors (for a budget of over $1.5 billion). The organisation itself describes the advantageous nature of this funding structure:

“This financial independence means we can make prompt operational decisions based first and foremost on the medical needs on the ground, not on political considerations.”

The most quintessential difference between public and private actors is that the public actor employs people who fulfill their work duties to make a living, and much less often because they are deeply conscious about the cause. It is safe to assume that volunteers, who draw little to no personal benefits from their contributions, are higher performing work ethic in comparison to government NGO’s.

This performance is visible when it comes to operating costs.

In The Costs of Public Income Redistribution and Private Charity (Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 21, NO. 2 [Summer 2007]: 3–20), Joseph Rolph Edwards points towards the numerical evidence of the undeniable over-performance of private charity. He notes that government absorbs at least two-thirds of the money it raised, meaning that for an aid of $200 million, it would need to raise $600 million.

“Assuming that private charities (and private family aid) deliver at least two-thirds of each dollar donated to them in aid, they would only need to raise $300 billion in order to deliver that $200 billion in aid. That is, raising only half as much money through voluntary donations, the private agencies (and families) could deliver the same amount as the government, saving, in the process, all the costs the government imposes on the public through the compulsory taxation.”

This estimate of at least two-thirds did not even include religious charities, who often lower their operating costs through the fact that they work on land that was donated to them.

It turns out that advocates of help for people in distress should turn to charities, not government. Organisation such as MSF show that the motivations of individuals who believe in their cause are far more effective than drowning resources in the ineffectiveness of bureaucracy.

This article was first published by Freedom Today.

Pictures are Creative Commons.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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