Real do-gooders

Nobel Peace Prize: Doctors Without Borders goes where people are suffering and tries to help them.

October 18, 1999

THE FIRST Nobel Peace Prize, in 1901, was shared by the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross. How fitting that the last prize of the century goes to another organization with a related mission, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

After a decade of Nobel Peace Prizes for pursuing worthy political objectives, this one goes to an organization that does good in desperate circumstances.

Other nongovernment aid organizations go where the need and suffering are. Many are equally worthy of honor. Doctors Without Borders, originally French, now has 2,000 volunteers of 45 nationalities working in 80 countries.

Ten French physicians founded Medecins Sans Frontieres in 1971 to aid victims of Nigeria's civil war. Their virtue was impulsiveness, an implied rebuke of the legalism constraining the International Red Cross. Now their leaders worry the prize may sap that self-proclaimed "right to intervene" and substitute the "institutionalization of humanitarian aid." Success does bring that risk, prize or no prize.

Everywhere Doctors Without Borders goes, people have been ill-served by rulers. In going, the volunteers reinforce the passion to help others that motivated their study for the profession.

For these physicians, health care delivery can mean dodging bullets. The organization recruits volunteers by reminding them why they became physicians.

In the politics of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, this was a safe prize. About time.

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