Press release |

From Presidency of MSF to Pedalling Cross Country in India

Dr Unni Karunakara embarks on a personal odyssey to cycle 5000 kms from Srinagar to Kerala to connect with people about health, healthcare, and humanitarianism

Srinagar, October 12, 2013 – Outgoing International President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Dr Unni Karunakara, is taking to the road on a bicycle to travel 5,000 kilometres through ten states beginning in Jammu and Kashmir and ending 100 days later in Kerala to spark a dialogue with the general public, medical students, and healthcare providers on health, healthcare, and humanitarianism. Dr Karunakara will push off and begin his odyssey in Srinagar at the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences at 1:00 pm.

Dr Karunakara ended his three-year term as International President of Nobel Peace Prize winning Médecins Sans Frontières on October 1st. During his tenure, MSF confronted many challenges to delivering healthcare in conflict zones, natural disasters, and to populations with inadequate access to healthcare in over 70 countries around the world. In 2012 alone, MSF medical teams worldwide provided over eight million outpatient consultations, helped deliver around 185,000 babies, conducted nearly 80,000 surgical procedures, and vaccinated almost 700,000 people against measles.

Dr Karunakara is changing his pattern of life, for now, and going on a journey of personal discovery to better understand health in his homeland, while continuing his lifelong commitment to MSF by cycling and raising awareness about medical humanitarian action and raising money for the people in need of healthcare all over the world. “I have been working in international health for 18 years from treating patients, advocating for life-saving medicines, and fighting to improve access and the quality of healthcare,” says Dr Karunakara. “I feel I have a unique opportunity to pause, reflect, and explore with people what health means to them and how they experience it. I love to cycle. As a medical intern in India in 1988, I biked from Delhi to Leh and Srinagar to Delhi. I dreamt, one day, to ride from one end of India to the other. Twenty five years later, I can fulfill this dream and combine it with my other passion, which is to connect with people, start meaningful dialogues, and learn from each other.”

A custom “unnicycles tourer” bicycle provided by German company Schindelhauer was made for Dr Karunakara. He will be joined by various riders along the way, offering camaraderie and their support to raise funds for MSF programmes in India and elsewhere, from Canadian Olympic silver medalist, Helen Upperton, to Indian poet and author Jeet Thayil. This ambitious trek across India will take the riders on highways, country roads, and ferries. In all, Dr Karunakara will stop in 64 cities, towns and villages, speak at ten medical colleges, and be a part of nine film screenings hosted by Alliance Française. 

“What Dr Karunakara is doing is heartfelt,” says Martin Sloot, General Director of MSF India. “He has already given MSF nearly 20 years of his professional life, knowledge, and skills, and now he is launching unicycles, which we hope will become Cycle for MSF, an annual awareness and fundraising event to garner support for some 400 international medical programmes, including eight projects in India. Such a commitment demonstrates his passion as a doctor, his impulse to connect, listen, and learn from people, and his deep commitment to improve the lives of people around the world.”

“We are happy to host Dr Karunakara and pleased that he chose to start his bike tour from our institute,” says Dr Shoukat Ali Zargar, Director of Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences. “MSF has been providing mental healthcare to people in Jammu and Kashmir since 2001, which has benefited the community at large.”

About Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
MS is an international, independent, medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion from healthcare in around 70 countries. MSF offers assistance to people based only on need and irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation. MSF received the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development in 1996 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

About MSF in India and Projects in Jammu Kashmir
MSF has been working in India since 1999 and has provided medical treatment to thousands of patients in the country. Currently, MSF runs eight projects in India in seven states. In Jammu and Kashmir, MSF provides psychological counselling in six fixed health centres located within government hospitals in Srinagar, Baramulla Pattan and Sopore.