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New Film Opens Window to Daily Lives of Doctors Without Borders

A scene from "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders"

Mark Hopkins's award winning documentary "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders," was recently released in movie theaters. The film offers an intimate look into the daunting missions of doctors who volunteer for the international humanitarian organization "Doctors Without Borders," also called "MSF," for its French name "Medecines Sans Frontieres."

The documentary is the first ever to provide a first-hand look at how the group's medical teams respond to emergencies caused by war, infectious disease or natural disaster. MSF is known for its daunting missions, for treating overwhelming numbers of victims with limited resources in often deplorable conditions.

MSF gave filmmaker Mark Hopkins and his crew unprecedented and uncensored access to its field operations in parts of Africa.

One cannot escape the sense of urgency MSF doctors face every minute in making life and death decisions. These scenes from the documentary are as real and as gritty as they come - with festering limbs, open wounds, cranial surgeries and more. The film shows the volunteer doctors around as they struggle to provide emergency care while staying composed in the face of crisis.

One of these volunteers is Dr. Tom Krueger. He went to Liberia in 2003 after the end of its two back-to-back civil wars, wars in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

"It was pretty much of a shock when I got here," said Dr. Krueger. "I mean, if you're going to talk to some of your friends of some of the stuff you saw and you can't describe the smells, the feeling of the heat on your body and the sweat running down your back, the smell of the pus that hits your nose of unwashed bodies in a closed room, the circulation, the smell of your own panic when you're not sure what to do…"

Other doctors in the film echo Dr. Krueger's sentiments. They talk about the lack of medical resources. They describe their grueling hours in poor, makeshift facilities. Many risk their lives as war swirls around them.

Dr. Chris Brasher served in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where according to MSF, more than four million people have lost their lives since 1997. He also spent some time in Liberia during the civil wars there. He describes the conditions.

"[There was] no water, no electricity, no food," he recalled. "[It was] pretty apocalyptic really."

Dr. Kiara Lepora is another doctor featured in the documentary. She has worked in various parts of Africa including the Democratic Republic of Congo, which she told VOA she considers one of the most war-ravaged countries in the world.

"Because in a way I really was not expecting the type of problems that we face there," said Dr. Leopora. "The situation is somehow much more unknown to the Western world and was not particularly described in the media and it was particularly touching."

Dr. Lepora also notes that the organization faces a shortage of veteran doctors.

"There are a lot of doctors who are willing to volunteer once. But not many doctors, who are willing to repeat the experience," she added.

Dr. Lepora says she will probably return to MSF, because she says once she learned how to be effective in a crisis situation, she finds it very difficult not to act when another crisis comes up.