MSF Scientific Days South Asia: a conference without borders

As a medical humanitarian organisation, MSF believes that medical research is one of the ways forward to improve the situation of our patients, on ground. In line with this vision, MSF India is organising its third MSF Scientific Days South Asia 2017 on May 27 at its Delhi office. The day aims to create and sustain a platform to stimulate discussions on leading medical research that addresses public health challenges in the region. In this interview, Dr. Maria Guevara, Regional Humanitarian Representative (ASEAN) and Peter Paul de Groote, General Director, MSF India talk about the significance of operational research and what Scientific Days aim to accomplish.


MSF is a leading medical humanitarian organisation. What is the significance of (operational) research in MSF projects?

As a medical humanitarian organisation, our main aim is to save lives and to alleviate suffering for people affected by conflicts, epidemics, exclusion or natural and man-made disasters. All our medical research is rooted in this work and is carried out with a view to improving the situation of our patients. This improvement can be in the form of providing more effective treatment or diagnostics, improving models of care delivery, increased understanding of health seeking behaviour or dispelling stigma. The common thread is that our patients will benefit from the research.

What’s the rationale behind Scientific Days? And why does this event focus on South Asia?

The MSF Scientific Days South Asia is part of a series of Scientific Days organised annually in the United Kingdom (UK), South Africa, and South Asia. The vision of this day is that the effective sharing of relevant operational research will contribute to the further improvement of MSF’s care globally. During the event, participants present and debate research and innovation from the frontlines of humanitarian action. At MSF Scientific Days South Asia 2017, the focus will be mainly on research coming from the region and on research that is relevant for the type of operational activities carried out within the region. We think it is important to have this research presented and exposed to a wider group of people with expertise, experience and commitment in the medical humanitarian field. We believe that only constructive engagement can lead to a better, more transparent outcome as well as wider exposure. Therefore, the impact will be beyond the boundaries of the location where the research was carried out.

The agenda of this year’s Scientific Days has a panel discussion on climate change and environmental health. What is MSF’s stance on this issue?

MSF as a medical humanitarian organisation is by nature a reactive organisation; we react to conflicts, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion. Our ability to respond to these situations and the effectiveness and quality of our interventions is dependent on a thorough understanding of the challenges we are faced with.

Climate change and environmental factors are already affecting populations. Natural disasters are becoming increasingly extreme in nature. The next type of refugees we will encounter will most likely be climate refugees.

By having this topic on the agenda we aim to dig deeper into what climate change could mean for humanitarian organisations and for MSF in particular as a medical organisation. There are probably more questions than answers at this time, but it is important to have this discussion in order to have a better understanding of what we are faced with and how we ought to respond.

MSF is present in several conflict zones. One of the sessions at Scientific Days aims to shed light on emergency room activities in an MSF-supported hospital in Yemen. Give us a snapshot on the challenges faced by aid workers in such difficult contexts.

MSF indeed works in many conflict zones around the world. Often the facilities we are running or supporting are the only places left for people to seek healthcare. Over the past few years, we have seen some of these facilities as well as people working in them become a target in places such as Afghanistan, Yemen and South Sudan. As a result, people who desperately need quality medical care have not been able to access it.

By highlighting some of the research from these very difficult operational contexts we are trying to demonstrate the importance of providing healthcare in a neutral and impartial way to all those who need it. If medical facilities and aid workers become a target then the impact for people is disastrous. Attacks on healthcare undermine the legal framework of International Humanitarian Law as well as the moral framework that those in need of medical care, even in the most difficult of circumstances, should be able to receive it.

What are your expectations from Scientific Days, going forward?

MSF Scientific Days are an important moment to take stock of our operational research and to take it to a wider audience, within and outside the organisation. We hope to highlight issues that affect those we seek to help and at the same time present solutions and innovations that could have a positive impact on the lives and wellbeing of our patients. Of course, the real hard work is to bring these often exciting results back to our missions and to ensure the outcomes of the research will be put in practice. This continuous interaction between research and medical action is central to the idea of the conference, and this is what we seek from Scientific Days, going forward.


To know more about MSF Scientific Days South Asia 2017, visit:

To know more about MSF’s medical research, visit:

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