Dr. Joanne Liu, International President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) gave a moving and fascinating lecture entitled The Cost of Fear: Humanitarian Crises in the age of Anxiety for the 28th John Snow Pumphandle lecture at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on 6 September 2018. Only the second woman ever to speak at the annual event, she spoke mostly about three areas which caused fear and insecurity globally in the past five years of her presidency of MSF: the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2013-2016; the continuing attacks on healthcare in areas of armed conflict; and the global forced migration crisis.

Throughout her talk, she narrated the tragic impact on communities, families and individuals who lived in fear and anxiety throughout the Ebola crisis in West Africa. However, she recalled some of the lessons learned from these epidemics, such as developing vaccines and understanding local context and dynamics, that made MSF and other actors more capable to deal with the recent Ebola outbreaks. Dr. Liu spoke about the impact on families in the aftermath of the Kunduz attack in Afghanistan where an MSF trauma hospital was destroyed in October 2015 linking this attack to the continuous attacks on healthcare during concurrent conflicts such as Syria and Yemen and asking the question whether this violence against health with impunity is setting a new norm for today’s warfare. She closed the lecture describing the devastating toll on the migrants crossing the Mediterranean who are exploited by people smugglers in Libya and elsewhere.

Her key message to the research community was to provide damming data which can be used as evidence to hold perpetrators of atrocities and war crimes to account and can aid advocacy efforts of organisations such as MSF.

Authors: Preeti Patel (R4HC-MENA), Abdulkarim Ekzayez (R4HC-MENA) and Bayard Roberts (RECAP)