'Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders' Makes Debut

Cameras follow humanitarian organization in conflict zones for first time.

December 11, 2009, 1:55 PM

Dec. 14, 2009— -- "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders" is a new documentary that takes a raw and unflinching look at the work of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

For the first time in their 38-year history, the humanitarian organization gave filmmakers access to their doctors working in two of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world -- war-torn Congo and post-war Liberia. Many of the patients had never even seen a doctor before making their way to the MSF-sponsored hospitals.

Cameras are there as volunteers, often armed with only the local primitive medical tools at their disposal, and are forced to make split-second, life or death decisions for their patients. These doctors do it all even as their own lives are threatened by the chaos surrounding them.

Two of the doctors profiled in the film are new recruits to MSF. Each must find a way to survive the seemingly overwhelming difficulties neither could not have even imagined when signing up.

We also meet two veterans of the organization -- both exhausted and a bit disillusioned after several field assignments. By the end of the film, all four doctors will be pushed to the breaking point as they balance the limitations of what they can accomplish in the face of massive medical needs with the limits of their own idealism.

MSF is a humanitarian organization committed to providing emergency medical relief to countries that have been destabilized by violence. The men and women of MSF are often some of the first to arrive on the scene of an emergency. They operate in 70 countries, with 2,000 international staff members and 24,000 locally hired personnel.

In order to protect their independence and flexibility, MSF gets almost all of its funding from private organizations and the general public. Thousands of medical professionals volunteer each year. Unfortunately, the often overwhelming levels of emotional and physiological stress makes it necessary for MSF to accept only a select few.

For more information on "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders" or MSF, click here.

Volunteer Doctors Can Be Sent Anywhere From Colombia to the Democratic Republic of Congo

Dr. Tom Krueger, one of the films new recruits, first decided to join MSF in 2005.

"I was ready for a change," he says in the film.

After meeting the strict qualifications of MSF, Krueger closed his private practice in Tennessee and accepted a mission in Liberia.

"In Liberia at the Mamba Point Hospital, our surgical team treated mostly complicated cases," Krueger says. "Most of the patients came in at a very late stage, so all the procedures were of a much higher level of difficulty. In the two months I was there, I performed the same number of surgeries as I would have working for six months in the U.S."

Since his initial field assignment in Liberia, he has accepted assignments with the organization in Nigeria, (Darfur) Sudan, and Sri Lanka.

Dr. Christopher Brasher practiced anesthesiology in his homeland of Australia before joining MSF. In 1996, his first field assignment landed him dangerously in the middle of a civil war in Burundi, Africa. He had already served nine years with the organization in places such as the former Soviet Republic of Armenia, Colombia and Sri Lanka when filmmakers met him in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"When I first started, I had no idea what I was getting myself into," Brasher tells them. "Every person who joins MSF as a volunteer has different motivations. I think some people do it just to run away from where they're from -- that's certainly my reason."

What else drives these brave men and women to abandon their often comfortable lives to risk it all helping out in some of the most dangerous places on the planet?

On Dec. 14, I will be hosting a live event in New York on behalf of MSF featuring a screening of the already acclaimed documentary "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders" followed by a panel discussion. The film will be shown in New York City at New York University's Skirball Center and broadcast live via satellite to 400 movie theaters across the country. Following the screening, I will host a discussion (also being broadcast live) with two of the doctors from the film, American surgeon Tom Krueger and Australian anesthesiologist Chris Brasher.

Also joining the conversation is author and Vanity Fair contributing editor Sebastian Junger; the executive director of the U.S. section of MSF, Sophie Delaunay; and the Liberian Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale.

The screening beings at 7:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 14, 2009.

To find a theater near you that will be showing the film and panel discussion, click here.

The documentary shines a light on the tireless and often thankless work MSF is doing in regions of the world too dangerous for most other organizations. I urge you to take a look at the list of theaters, find a location near you, and check out the film and accompanying panel discussion. It is sure to be a thought-provoking evening.

For more information on "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders" or MSF, click here.

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