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© Eddy Van Wessel

Objectives and activities


The UREPH participates in reflection and analyses on humanitarian action in relation to projects implemented by MSF in the organisation’s fields of intervention. In collaboration with MSF’s different departments and with a multidisciplinary approach, the unit supports and oversees research initiatives arising from the practice of humanitarian action or from more general themes concerning multilateral aid. Finally, the unit represents MSF in academic bodies, international organisations and non-governmental organisations.


  • Long-term research projects: ethics of medical action, risk exposure and humanitarian work, gender-based violence.
  • Context analysis, punctual work as requested by Operations.
  • Institutional positioning and representation: seminars, debates, conferences and networking.
  • Partnerships, teaching and student supervision: Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies and Graduate Institute, Sciences Po Toulouse, etc.

The UREPH aims to contribute to the generation and dissemination of knowledge, and to public positioning on critical humanitarian and medical issues of MSF Switzerland in particular, and MSF in general.

The humanitarian healthcare environment

  • Analysis of the humanitarian security environment, including specific support to understanding and management of critical incidents.
  • Contribution to the reflection on the historical and contemporary impacts of infectious diseases.
  • Reflection on the evolution of the notion of sans-frontiérisme and MSF’s place in the aid sector.
  • Ongoing reflection on the challenges of access and negotiation with regards to evolving projections of State sovereignty, initiated in 2018 and since developed through a series of field visits.

Environmental issues and planetary health

  • Analysis of environmental health issues, operational practices leading to environmental harm and search of alternatives to help reduce their ecological impact.
  • Design of intervention strategies and support of initiatives seeking to increase the sustainability of the supply chain.
  • Contribution to the development of sustainable purchasing tools and practices that integrate environmental, social and ethical considerations in the selection of suppliers and goods/services.


  • Providing a space for staff to share moral experiences and supporting them in their ethical questioning.
  • Increasing understanding of the ethical challenges of humanitarian medicine; developing resources and a support network for the field and HQ teams.

In addition to long-term thematic research, the UREPH also provides ad hoc support to the field and to priority Operations dossiers.

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