MSF in 2020: An extraordinary year in pictures

For most of us, 2020 has been a year like no other. Our lives have rarely felt this closed off and the distances between our family and friends never so great.  

For an organisation like MSF – one powered by people who are dedicated to taking on complex medical emergencies – the impact of COVID-19 has, without doubt, become our biggest challenge in recent history.  

But other crises haven‘t stopped for the coronavirus.  

From measles outbreaks across central Africa to grinding civil war in Yemen, vast flooding in South Sudan to the terrifying explosion that shook Beirut and, most recently, the escalating conflict in Ethiopia that has evolved into a worrying refugee crisis. 

In every emergency, in every aspect of our life-saving work, the pandemic has pushed our teams to the limit – and we can only go to the length we have because of you.  

Taken throughout this extraordinary year, here’s our collection of pictures from just some of the moments that mattered in 2020. 

The COVID-19 pandemic

Preparing for the first wave – Leganes, Spain, 25 March 2020

Inside a sports centre in the city of Leganes, a temporary hospital ward is set up to treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients in Spain.

Carrying cylinders – Al-Sahul, Yemen, 7 July 202

Two team members carry a large oxygen bottle into the ICU at Al-Sahul COVID-19 centre in Ibb governorate. Here, our teams supported local health authorities to care for patients in the 18 intensive care beds and 70 inpatient beds, as well as by providing vital medical supplies and training to staff on infection prevention and control measures.

Clean-up operation – Brussels, Belgium, 30 April 2020

A volunteer washing and disinfecting protective equipment at a project set-up to treat vulnerable homeless people and migrants for COVID-19 in the Belgian capital.

A municipal health worker talks to a family during house-to-house visits on the shores of Lake Mirini in the Amazon region. Brazil, July 2020.

An MSF watchman wearing personal protective equipment on duty at the entrance of our Women’s Hospital in Peshawar. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he checks the temperature of all staff entering the hospital for work. Pakistan, September 2020.

MSF and municipal health staff return to the boats they used to reach a community living on the shores of Lake Mirini in the Amazon region. They have carried out house-to-house routine screening and vaccinations. Brazil, July 2020.

Conflict and insecurity

Gunshot surgery – Bamenda, Cameroon, 13 March 2020

An MSF surgical team at St Mary Hospital in northwest Cameroon treat a patient for five gunshot wounds after he was attacked and tortured by armed men. Since 2019, Cameroon has seen conflict between the government and non-state armed groups in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of the country.

Zakia’s new baby – Kabul, Afghanistan, 9 December 2019

Zakia, who has just given birth to twins, laughs with staff at Dasht-e-Barchi maternity hospital in December 2019. Five months later, on 12 May, the hospital was brutally attacked by an unknown armed group in a horrific moment that made headlines around the world.

After the attack – Kabul, Afghanistan, 13 May 2020

The scene following the horrific attack on the MSF maternity ward at Dasht-e-Barchi hospital that left 24 people dead including an MSF midwife.

A resident of a camp for internally displaced people in Bama, Borno state, chops firewood. It is a precious commodity for many displaced people in Borno and is often traded for food and other essential items. Without fire and fuel, people in the camps cannot cook the food rations they receive. Nigeria, December 2019.

An X-ray taken at MSF’s emergency trauma hospital in the Tabarre area of Port-au-Prince. A bullet is lodged in the patient’s spine. Haiti, December 2019.

A young man seeks refuge in Itota, South Kivu, after being raped by armed men in a nearby village. Democratic Republic of Congo, December 2020.

Patients from the besieged city of Marawi and neighbouring towns in Lanao del Sur province visit the regional health office to have free medical check-ups and consultations. Philippines, January 2020.

Refugees and displaced people

A woman flees a fire at Moria refugee camp – Lesvos, Greece, 9 September 2020"

A woman clutches her child as she flees from a fire that broke out and destroyed Greece's largest refugee camp, an overcrowded facility on the island of Lesvos, leaving nearly 13,000 people without shelter.

Souleman, Layla and Cillian – Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship, Mediterranean Sea, 25 August 2020

Souleman and Layla, along with their two-year-old son Cillian, were rescued from a rubber boat in distress by an MSF and Sea-Watch team on 23 August. They disembarked onto a quarantine ferry in Palermo, Sicily, on 2 September after spending 10 nights on board Sea-Watch 4, a search and rescue ship operated by Sea-Watch and MSF.

Protest outside the French Ministry of Health – Paris, France, 20 November 2020"

Refugees and migrants walk between Velika Kladuš and Bihać, near the border with Croatia. Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 2020.

A migrant shows the wounds inflicted on him by the Croatian police. Two days earlier, he had come back from the Bosnian border with Croatia to a nearby squat in an abandoned former factory. Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 2020.

‘La Bestia’ (or The Beast), known as The Death Train, is the name of a network of freight trains that transport fuel, cement and other goods along the railways of Mexico. It is also used as a means of transportation for migrants and asylum seekers ─ mainly Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans ─ who seek to reach the United States. Mexico, February 2020.

Mohammed, from Mali, has lived in Libya since 2015. He wants to return to Mali but doesn’t have enough money. He came to escape the conflict in his country and to find work to sustain his family. He is a labourer for the municipality but, as his work is badly paid, he also collects scrap metals in a dump. He receives 1 Libyan dinar (€0.64) for each kilo of metal he collects. Libya, January 2020.

Medical emergencies

Wound and burn care in Karantina after the explosion – Beirut, Lebanon, 10 August 2020

Hamza, four, receives treatment for wounds in the MSF medical point in Karantina, Beirut. MSF established a fixed point in the Mar Mikhael and Karantina neighbourhoods of Beirut, two of the areas most impacted by the blast

A home ruined by storm Amanda – El Granjero, El Salvador, 2 June 2020

María Turcios and her five children swam to save their lives on 31 May, after tropical storm Amanda hit El Salvador. Floods, high winds and heavy rains damaged around 30,000 homes in El Salvador and killed 27 people as the country continued to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. MSF teams launched emergency activities in some of the most affected communities in the capital, San Salvador, and built 25 shelters in San Salvador and Soyapango.

A boy weighs himself at MSF’s Lanyeri clinic following flooding – Pibor, South Sudan, 10 September 2020

An MSF mobile clinic brings life-saving medical care to Lanyeri after flooding made the roads impassable. Flooding affected an estimated 800,000 people across a vast area of South Sudan from July this year. MSF responded by providing medical care in flood-affected areas of Greater Pibor, Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states. The needs for medical care increased in late October with a sharp rise in malaria cases.

Beirut residents cover their windows with plastic sheets. Thousands of apartments and shops were damaged in the 4 August explosion and the streets were covered in debris and broken glass. Lebanon, August 2020.

Following rescue operations on 23 and 24 August, Sea-Watch 4 has 201 survivors on board, denied a place of safety. As EU and maritime authorities again turn a deaf ear to the cries of people in distress at sea ─ and despite being over six hours away ─ the ship has altered course to transfer people from the Louise Michel, the only other search and rescue vessel still active in the central Mediterranean. August 2020.

Adelia Patterson, wellness and life enrichment director at Focused Care at Beechnut longterm care facility, plays her ukelele while she and the residents sing. MSF conducted infection prevention and control training and mental health and wellness training with medical and non-medical staff at Beechnut and other nursing homes in Houston, Texas, between July and October. United States of America, October 2020.