Professor Chappuis, you are more than acquainted with the humanitarian field, what is your experience in this domain ?
I worked as a doctor in the field for “Médecins sans frontières” (MSF – French Doctors) in 1996 and 1998 in Somalia and Kenya and these experiences confirmed my decision to choose tropical medicine as a specialization. Since 1999, I have participated in research projects overseeing the medical aspects of MSF programs on tsetse fly disease and visceral leishmanioseis (also named kala-azar), which are two of the most commonly overlooked tropical diseases. These illnesses, deadly in the absence of treatment, are directly connected to humanitarian contexts because they affect populations in precarious situations due to their geographical and political remoteness, and are sometimes so frequent that they lead to a humanitarian crisis owing to an excess population mortality.
Medicine has improved tremendously but needs always seem so huge in certain discriminated countries, is not humanitarian aid a drop in the ocean ?
Humanitarian aid does not aim at saving the world but at making it more human and less inequitable. It is indispensable to limit acute or chronic suffering in contexts of crises, whether it is during “classical” humanitarian emergencies (natural disasters, wars) or contexts of populations being neglected by political decision-makers or health systems. This enhancement of dignity it offers to populations, even if it can sometimes be seen as a “drop in the ocean”, can have a very important local impact and a moral value … the size of an ocean.
The association 2nd Chance aims at developing reconstructive surgery. Why do you think is this domain is a priority ?
There are many priorities in humanitarian medicine, and reconstructive surgery is one of them. It addresses the individual. Successful surgery contributes to the well-being of the patient by restoring his physical health of course, but also his mental and social abilities. Indeed, a victim of a disfiguring wound or of a congenital deformity is often rejected by his close relations and by the society surrounding him, leading to unbearable mental suffering. Reconstructive surgery can restore the dignity of a person, and it is in this sense that it has – or should have – an important role to play in many humanitarian contexts.