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July 9, 1997

Humanitarianism Under the Gun

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York (Dr Sharp), and the Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx (Dr Shenson), NY. Drs Sharp and Shenson are chair and vice-chair, respectively, of Doctors of the World.

JAMA. 1997;278(2):160. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550020092044

The call came at 5:30 AM on Sunday, January 19. The unthinkable had happened: our humanitarian mission in Rwanda had been attacked. Three volunteers were shot and killed, and our project director was severely injured.1

The mission, in place just 3 weeks, was providing medical services to health clinics in the town of Ruhengeri, home to thousands of newly returning refugees. It was a US project, sponsored by Doctors of the World and affiliated with the French organization Médecins du Monde. Four armed men forced their way into the Doctors of the World compound, demanded passports and papers, and without warning, opened fire with a machine gun. A doctor, a nurse, and a logistician, volunteers from Spain, were shot in the head and died immediately. The US volunteer, Nitin Madhav, dived under a table but was nonetheless wounded in the leg. He reacted with remarkable presence of mind: unable