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Dr. Joanne Liu Elected President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International

Published: 10 Jul 2013

Dr. Joanne Liu (IMHL Module 4 participant) has been elected President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International, effective October 1, 2013.  

Joanne Liu, raised a French Canadian, was born in Quebec city to her Chinese immigrant parents. Joanne has been passionate engaged about the world from an early age. When she was 13, she read “Et la Paix dans le monde docteur”, a physician's account of working with MSF during the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Greatly inspired by this book, she dreamt of herself one day becoming “a doctor without borders”. She joined the Canadian Katimavik Youth programme after secondary school in order to experience community service projects.

During junior college, she went to Mali with Canadian Crossroads International. This was a life changing experience for her. Joanne decided to become a paediatrician and work overseas. From then on, she made all her educational choices to best prepare herself for this specific form of medical practice.

Her first field assignment with MSF was in 1996. Since then, she has completed over 20 subsequent missions. Like many of her MSF colleagues, her humanitarian work has taken her to some of the most unstable regions and humanitarian crises of the world. These include Somali refugee camps in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras, Haiti, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Indonesia, Palestine, Uganda, Sudan, Sri Lanka. She is all too familiar with the sound of gunshots and artillery, and has had to live in conditions so dangerous that she slept with her boots on in case of a rebel attack. She took those risks along with her fellow MSF colleagues with the sole goal of delivering medical aid to those with the greatest need.

Joanne worked as an operational programmes manager for MSF from 1999 to 2002. In 2003, she returned to Montreal and became the president of MSF-Canada until 2009. She now sits on the Board of Directors of MSF-Switzerland. In addition to her humanitarian commitments, she works at Ste-Justine Hospital in Montreal as a full time Pediatric Emergency Physician and at the Health Travel Clinic of the Centre hospitalier de L'Univeristé de Montréal.

Among her recent remarkable contributions is the launch of a telemedicine project in MSF field projects. This initiative gives medical field teams access to specialised clinical advice in French, English and Spanish. This project draws on the expertise of nearly 300 specialists worldwide and connects them to more than 150 MSF international sites. Every day, this critically important medical advice helps MSF patients and their medical care takers. Today, along with Dr Laurent Bonnardot, she is one of the key volunteer coordinator of the project.

In 2011, YWCA of Montreal honoured Joanne with a "Woman of Distinction" award for her community involvement. In 2013, she accepted the Teasdale Corti Humanitarian Prize from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. “Dr. Liu is an extraordinary physician who has placed herself continually in situations of danger and deprivation so that she could help patients,” said Andrew Padmos, MD, FRCPC, CEO of the Royal College. “She exemplifies the unwavering commitment to humanitarianism that the Teasdale-Corti award is intended to recognize.”

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare. MSF offers assistance to people based on need, irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation.

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