Interview with Silva Horakova, general director of Czech office of nonprofit organization Doctors without borders

Our graduates can donate €100 from their tuition fees to a charity or nonprofit organization after completing their studies. For today’s interview, we have chosen Mrs. Sylva Horáková, the director of the Czech office of Doctors Without Borders.

We sincerely thank you for taking the time to provide us with this interview. We greatly appreciate the efforts of the entire organization. First, I would like to ask you about your current priorities regarding using acquired financial donations. Are they directed to areas affected by epidemics or armed conflicts?

Financial resources are being directed to many places around the world. Doctors Without Borders currently operates in more than 70 countries, and the contexts of our humanitarian assistance vary. We deal with the aftermath of natural disasters, armed conflicts, and epidemics or work in areas with chronic shortages of medical care and often a lack of healthcare infrastructure. Sometimes, it’s a combination of these factors. Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Ukraine, and South Sudan are just a few places where we provide intensive medical assistance. I also want to mention the current urgent situation of Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing armed conflict in Sudan, lacking everything – food, shelter, medical care. In addition to providing humanitarian medical assistance, Doctors Without Borders is also striving to mobilize the international community and foreign governments to help.

Can you reveal where precisely the finances from our graduates have been used, if it’s possible to find out?

We receive donations from your graduates and ensure they reach those needing medical care. The Czech office of Doctors Without Borders is funding 9 countries (11 humanitarian projects) this year. These countries include Yemen, Greece, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Lebanon, Ukraine, Kiribati, Honduras, and Kenya. We also send funds to the Emergency Fund, from which we draw financial resources for sudden natural disasters and other crises. So, your donations will go to some of these mentioned countries and projects.

I’d like to ask a more personal question. How did you get involved with Doctors Without Borders, and what is your specific role?

I have worked in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years and have practical and academic experience. I studied development management at The Open University in the UK. In practice, I have worked for various organizations in humanitarian aid, development cooperation, and human rights. I spent over six years in the Caucasus – in Chechnya, Georgia, and Abkhazia – and it’s a region that holds a special place in my heart. All these experiences helped me when I applied for the Czech office of Doctors Without Borders director position. I wanted to continue working in the nonprofit sector with an international reach but from home, as I have a family here. At the same time, I knew Doctors Without Borders well from my time in Abkhazia and knew they were doing excellent work (not only there). In the Czech Republic, along with our team (full of beautiful hearts 😊), we are involved in recruiting staff for humanitarian projects, fundraising, and informing the Czech public about humanitarian crises in which Doctors Without Borders operates.

About the current global economic stagnation, do you perceive any challenges regarding donor engagement and the level of financial donations?

Last year, we received a record amount of donations, driven by the escalation of the war in Ukraine and the enormous solidarity of Czechs with Ukraine. This year, apart from the exceptional fundraising campaign for Ukraine last year, we do not see a decrease in donations. This is fantastic, and our donors in the Czech Republic, especially the regular ones, remain loyal to us despite possible economic hardships. We greatly appreciate that. I also want to thank you for the donations from your university’s graduates!

In our communication, you mentioned health worker Wilson Thionga from Kenya. What is his role in the Basic Clinical Nursing Care for Nurses (Brothers) and Midwives program? How does his work influence students in South Sudan?

Wilson Thionga is now the training manager at the Academy of Doctors Without Borders. He oversees the training provided by mentors, reviews the curricula, and visits hospitals to see how lecturers integrate with the rest of the team. He also supports clinical mentors in their daily activities in the wards. His influence on the students is significant. He knows what it’s like to be a student and fulfill the dream of becoming a health worker. He can inspire and support them in their work. He knows how to pass on his experiences and face challenges. This was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was easier for employees who were also Academy students to cope with the situation. You can learn more about Wilson here:

Can you share a specific story or example that illustrates the success of your educational program and its impact on patients in the field?

In June 2022, our graduates graduated from the Academy of Doctors Without Borders. We need trained and educated personnel to hand the project to the locals. Thanks to the education of local healthcare workers, we achieve this. Healthcare is then maintained in a sustainable, professional quality at the local level.

What is the primary goal of your Doctors Without Borders Academy program for the future, and what are your plans for its further expansion?

The goal of the Academy is to train local staff who can provide quality healthcare to those in need and gain independence from Doctors Without Borders, thereby securing a livelihood for their families. Further plans for expanding the project are currently in the preparatory stage.

How can our graduates continue to support your organization and its educational activities in the future?

There are many ways for your graduates to get involved. In the Czech Republic, they can organize their event to support Doctors Without Borders or participate as volunteers in mapathons, where they help create maps. More information about these activities can be found on our Czech website:  

They can also join a humanitarian mission with Doctors Without Borders. Our organization consists not only of doctors but also various other non-medical professions like logisticians, HR managers, financiers, project managers, and more. We regularly hold informative evenings where interested individuals can learn more.

Can you tell us about your organization’s other challenges and opportunities while providing healthcare in crisis-affected and disaster-prone areas?

One of the biggest challenges has always been ensuring the safety of our patients and staff, especially in contexts with security risks or politicized situations. We have security rules in place to protect our colleagues and patients. We also employ a ‘negotiated access’ approach, engaging with all parties in a conflict and explaining our work to gain patient access. The organization’s neutrality plays a significant role here, and the fact that most of our funds come from individual donors rather than governments ensures a non-political perception.

Opportunities lie in modern technologies that can be used in humanitarian aid, further modernizing it. For instance, we recently developed the AntibioGo app, a diagnostic tool right on a mobile phone that allows laboratory technicians without expertise to measure and interpret antibiograms, thus enabling quicker treatment with the most suitable antibiotics and reducing antibiotic resistance. This is a handy tool in crisis areas where microbiology laboratories are often scarce.

We also use 3D printing in our work, such as for printing prosthetics. Additionally, we strive to be innovative and environmentally responsible by using solar panels in hospitals, hybrid vehicles, and practices to manage hospital waste sustainably.

What is your message to everyone who contributes to and supports the work of Doctors Without Borders worldwide?

I sincerely appreciate that they care about the fate of people affected by wars and natural disasters, even on the other side. It’s evidence that people are compassionate and not indifferent to the suffering of others. I thank them for their support.


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