Joanne Liu. Physician and public servant. Instigator and problem solver. Standing boldly at the front lines to address the crises that affect our world.
From your days as a kid in Quebec City, you had an inkling about a future that would ultimately take hold. You were serious and studious, always searching for answers, a visible minority in a purely French-Canadian town. Then, at 20, on a humanitarian trip to Mali, you witnessed depths of poverty and hunger that firmly set your sights. Medicine was your passion and would prove to be your calling.
At McGill University you specialized in pediatrics, because the children would always matter most. You interned at New York’s Bellevue Hospital as a sort of trial by fire, and then began your fieldwork for Médecins Sans Frontières in 1996. In the intervening years, you have carried out dozens of missions in as many countries, always with the MSF mandate in mind: to bear witness and speak out, to alleviate suffering and protect life.
You were elected International President of MSF in 2013. With you leading the charge, MSF dives headlong into every conceivable situation where there is a need for greater humanity—caring for mothers and babies in Kenya, tackling cervical cancer in the Philippines, calling out the pharmaceutical industry, fighting typhoid in the Congo, providing access to skilled birth attendants, and responding to every significant outbreak of Ebola, after alerting the world of its dangers. Teams conduct sea rescues, treat refugees and the internally displaced, manage hepatitis outbreaks in Niger, and prevent malaria in Mali, Cambodia and Chad. And, after the tragic air strikes on MSF hospitals in Kunduz, Yemen and Syria, you called on the UN Security Council for accountability and a renewed commitment—wars have rules and attacks on medical facilities must end.
We have a lot to learn from your moxie, your insistence, your fearlessness, and your fight—from how you never bow to convention and how you prove, every day, that gender doesn’t define any boundary that can’t be crossed. To quote your own favorite Siddhartha, “your soul is the whole world.”
Dr. Liu, it is a tremendous honor to pay tribute to your vital work with this, the 2017 Barnard Medal of Distinction. You are the ultimate global citizen, a rebellious doctor without borders, and an inspiration to us all.