“Dans les fracas du monde”, a humanitarian journey like an open heart operation… 

Patrick Aeberhard in Biafra

A passage in the book of “memoirs” published by Patrick Aeberhard, a cardiologist who was one of the founders of MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) and then MDM (Médecins Du Monde), and who has lived through everything from humanitarian crises in Biafra to the present day, sums up the “French doctor spirit”. And, against all odds, it does not take place in a destitute country ravaged by war… but in a private cardiology center in Saint-Denis where Dr. Aeberhard works between two humanitarian missions; one day, he sees a woman arrive who, in a strange suicide attempt, has just swallowed a large quantity of digitalis, a drug which, when overdosed, becomes a poison for the heart, killing without appeal… Instead of preparing himself for the fatal outcome that his colleagues assure him, the young doctor searches the archives for a solution, finds a lead that leads him to telephone American specialists, manages to convince them to send him the only product likely to act via the first Air France flight, has it prepared without authorization in a laboratory… And manages, to everyone’s surprise, to save the suicidal woman… who will thank him 22 years later: not to get lost in reticence or ethical conjectures, in concern to take the least possible risks, but, as the author writes: “to act at all costs… This in the spirit of our MSF morality resulting from May 68”. And to add “This moral may be perilous, but it is still mine”…

A morality forged in these worldly fracas that make the title of this invigorating work. But not only. In the political commitment too, in the sense that politics is the desire to change the world and life… And the practice of medicine its act par excellence… In evoking the founding episode of Biafra “without which it is not said that MSF would have been born”, Patrick Aeberhard speaks of the importance of having, with this NGO, “the tool we dreamed of to act on the world as citizens of the universal”… Biafra, a founding conflict which was “the first laboratory of what would later become humanitarian law, including interference”. Alongside Aeberhard, figures such as Max Récamier “moral and professional guarantor of humanitarian medicine” or Bernard Kouchner “a flamboyant young promising doctor with politics and morality at heart” will be found… What did they want, these pioneers who were fed with the GAs of May 68? “We wanted to accomplish something just“…    

Patrick Aeberhard in Kurdistan in Iraq, 1991.

Humanist and political morality, therefore, which the author makes us understand to what extent it was born from the companionship of the major intellectuals of the time with a non-frontier medicine that no longer wanted to be constrained by the neutrality of the ICRC. Thinkers such as the philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch, Michel Foucault, André Glucksmann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Pierre Vidal-Naquet, shed light on the path of the young committed practitioners. Later, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Jorge Semprun, or Mario Bettati will be added to the list of legendary conferences, in the amphitheater of the Tarnier hospital in Paris. During these exchanges, Michel Foucault will handle for the first time the notion of “duty to interfere”, which the international jurist Mario Bettati will put to music, and which is still today one of the bases of humanitarian action, a principle that gave birth, via resolution 43/131 adopted by the United Nations, to the “responsibility to protect”, a real feat made possible, according to Aeberhard’s formula, by the alliance of “the gunshot and the bar”, of humanitarians and jurists…

The “baroud” that the author evokes are the humanitarian crises and conflicts that he has gone through, striving each time, with his comrades, both to intervene with the victims, and “to advance international law in terms of access to care”.  Like Lebanon, where “MSF’s war missions really began”… But “wars” can also arise in Paris, within the NGO itself… Aeberhard lets us experience the tearing apart, which begins with the shouting matches on rue Daviel in the 13th arrondissement, MSF’s headquarters at the time, and culminates in the General Assembly of MSF in June 1979. The AGM where the “historic” members rejected the “pseudo-professional” drifts of the “bureaucrats” who wanted to pay for missions, for example, “thus transforming activists into employees”… Reading these lines today, at a time of standardized, professionalized, “managed” humanitarianism, is a bit funny… and at the same time, it is a source of joy! From this split, Médecins du Monde was born, at the initiative of Bernard Kouchner and Aeberhard. The founding mission of this new NGO was “The Island of Light”, a hospital ship that took in Vietnamese boat people fleeing the communist regime, off the island of Poulo Bidong, a politico-humanitarian event made possible, once again, by the commitment of intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Raymond Aron, André Glucksmann, and always Mario Bettati… Other adventures will follow, Afghanistan invaded by the Soviet army for ten years, El Salvador and Nicaragua, later Bosnia, and Rwanda, which will deeply mark Aeberhard, to the point that he will think he has carried out “the mission of too much” in front of the pile of corpses… Another important moment: the birth of the French Mission of MDM, with drug addicts suffering from AIDS, the excluded, the homeless, a mission which, always in this “political” spirit, will later lead to the RMI-RSA, the CMU… As the author says, “for a humanitarian, the taking over of one of his ideas by the state is the best reward”…

One sometimes has the impression, while reading these memoirs, that Dr. Aeberhard’s life had to go through all these “world crashes”, it was written… As in this passage where he tells how, the doctor who has known all the distant wars, finds himself, on the evening of November 13, 2015, passing by one of the machine-gunned café terraces… And giving first aid to the victims… In the company of an anesthetist friend also in the area, with whom he worked “from Lebanon to Afghanistan”… And to give first aid to the victims… In the company of an anesthetist friend also in the area, with whom he has worked “from Lebanon to Afghanistan”…

The strength of this book, which reads like an adventure story, with the added humanity and depth, is that it restores faith in humanitarianism, by linking today’s less “transgressive” commitments to the founding roots of French humanitarianism, which is committed, inventive, and not afraid to influence “big politics” on occasion… A poem by René Char, given to Aeberhard by André Glucksmann to cure his blues after returning from a mission, perhaps sums up this essential: “We must establish ourselves outside of ourselves, on the edge of tears, in the orbit of famines if we want something out of the ordinary to happen, which was only for us”…

Pierre Brunet

Writter & humanitarian

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Read here : Dans les fracas du monde, de Patrick Aeberhard (calmann-levy.fr)

Patrick Aeberhard

Patrick Aeberhard, a cardiologist at the Centre Cardiologique du Nord in Saint Denis, has been head of the cardiac rehabilitation department since June 2002. He left for Biafra as an ICRC doctor in 1968.  He participated in the foundation of Médecins sans frontières and then Médecins du monde. President of Médecins du Monde (from 1987 to 1989) and member of its board of directors from 1981 to 1995, Patrick Aeberhard has led numerous humanitarian missions since 1968 in Biafra and in particular in Lebanon, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Haiti.

Then advisor to the cabinet of Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Health (1992-1993, 1997 -1999, 2001-2002), he is in charge of drug addiction, exclusion, then physical activity and sports and prevention of doping behaviors.

In 2005, he became an associate professor at the University of Paris 8, Department of Law, UFR2 Health Law. He developed the concept of health and human rights and created the university diploma “Health, Emergency, Development”.

He is a member :

  • of the National Advisory Commission on Human Rights from 1989 to 1996;
  • of the consultative commission on drug addiction policies at the Ministry of Health from 1994 to 1997;
  • of the French Society of Cardiology, working group on the functional evaluation and rehabilitation of cardiac patients;
  • several humanitarian organizations: Médecins du Monde, Children Action, Institut de l’humanitaire, Chaîne de l’espoir;
  • Support Committee of the Primo Levi Association (care and support for victims of torture and political violence);
  • Vice President of the FXB association (François Xavier Bagnoux).

Pierre Brunet, writter & humanitarian 

Born in 1961 in Paris to a French father and a Spanish mother, Pierre Brunet found his first vocation as a freelance journalist. In 1994, he crossed paths with humanitarian aid and volunteered in Rwanda, which had been devastated by genocide. In early 1995, he left on a humanitarian mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then torn by civil war. There he took on the responsibilities of program coordinator in Sarajevo, then head of mission.

Upon his return to France at the end of 1996, he joined the headquarters of the French NGO SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, for which he had gone on mission. He will be in charge of communication and fundraising, while returning to the field, as in Afghanistan in 2003, and starting to write… In 2011, while remaining involved in humanitarian work, he commits himself totally to writing, and devotes an essential part of his time to his vocation of writer.

Pierre Brunet is Vice-President of the association SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL. He has been in the field in the North-East of Syria, in the “jungle” of Calais in November 2015, and in Greece and Macedonia with migrants in April 2016.

Pierre Brunet’s novels are published by Calmann-Lévy:

  • January 2006: publication of his first novel “Barnum” by Calmann-Lévy, a story born from his humanitarian experience.
  • September 2008 : publication of his second novel ” JAB “, the story of a little Spanish orphan girl who grew up in Morocco and who will become a professional boxer as an adult.
  • March 2014: release of his third novel “Fenicia”, inspired by the life of his mother, a little Spanish orphan during the civil war, refugee in France, later an anarchist activist, seductress, who died in a psychiatric institute at 31 years old.
  • End of August 2017: release of his fourth novel “The Triangle of Uncertainty”, in which the author “returns” again, as in “Barnum” to Rwanda in 1994, to evoke the trauma of a French officer during Operation Turquoise.

In parallel to his work as a writer, Pierre Brunet works as a co-writer of synopses for television series or feature films, in partnership with various production companies. He also collaborates with various magazines by publishing columns or articles, notably on international news.