Healthcare in Danger: Rise in Violence against Medics in War Zones

August 10th, 2011 - by admin

BBC News – 2011-08-10 00:23:46

Red Cross: Rise in Violence against Medics in War Zones
Imogen Foulkes / BBC News

GENEVA (August 9, 2011) — The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned of an alarming rise in attacks on medical facilities and personnel in conflict zones.

The ICRC report, Healthcare in Danger, lists 600 attacks worldwide on doctors, nurses, ambulances and hospitals from mid-2008 to the end of 2010.

It covers 16 nations, including Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia and Colombia.

The report notes that while some attacks are accidental, many deliberately target healthcare workers.

The right of those wounded in war to receive medical treatment – and the right of medical workers to move freely — are enshrined in the first Geneva Convention.

But, almost 150 years after the convention was adopted, it is being violated on a regular basis, says the ICRC’s director-general Yves Daccord.

“Clearly there is a trend in terms of no respect of healthcare… and more importantly for us, nobody seems to care about it,” he told the BBC.

“A few years ago, when an ambulance was shelled, or a hospital was taken by armed people, or doctors were arrested, there was an outcry. But now nobody — people, governments, armed groups – seems to be interested anymore.”
‘Millions affected’

The Red Cross describes violence which prevents healthcare as an overlooked humanitarian tragedy.

Bombed hospitals, ambulances delayed at checkpoints, doctors threatened, kidnapped or even killed, or nurses intimidated into abandoning vaccination programmes – all add up, the Red Cross says — to a denial of healthcare, affecting millions of people worldwide.

The publication of the report marks the start of a four-year campaign by the ICRC to remind warring parties of their obligation to allow the wounded to be treated, and to allow medical staff to work unhindered.

Calls for Protection for Doctors in Bahrain and Libya
BBC World News

(March 21, 2011) — “They have detained two doctors. Their families say security forces took them from the hospital yesterday. We don’t know where they are.”

A doctor working at Salmaniya Hospital in the Bahrain’s capital city Manama describes the worrying disappearance of two colleagues.

His is just the latest report of medical personnel being intimidated and attacked while trying to do their job in difficult circumstances.

“Everybody is frightened. We fear for the future,” he said, refusing to give his name.

Manama’s main hospital is now a military hospital after Bahrain’s security forces occupied it. The doctors who were inside at the time could not leave. Doctors who were at home at the time were not allowed to enter the hospital and treat civilians.

“We hope it can go back to normal and military rule will finish as soon as possible,” the doctor said.

“In the meantime we have to co-operate with military commanders. We have no other option.”
‘I was humiliated’

Aallaa, another doctor working at the main hospital in Manama, told BBC News: “The whole hospital was surrounded by tanks, ambulances were stopped form helping the injured and we were forbidden from treating injured people.”

When she attended riots at the university to help with the wounded, Aallaa said one doctor was hit with a stick and another was threatened with a knife.

“They threatened to kill me too. There were all sorts of threats and I was humiliated too,” she said.

“But all my colleagues are standing by our patients regardless of ethnicity or race.”

The World Medical Association, which represents more than nine million physicians in 97 countries, says it is alarmed by the growing threats to its members.

The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, condemned the use of force by security forces in Bahrain. She also warned that takeovers of medical centres was a blatant violation of international law.

“This is shocking and illegal conduct,” she said.

The World Medical Association (WMA) is now calling on the Bahrain authorities to have these attacks investigated fully and independently, and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Amnesty International also said the attacks were unprovoked and unjustifiable and in breach of international law enforcement standards.

‘Under Siege’
Dr Wonchat Subhachaturas, president of the WMA, said: “Physicians have an ethical duty to care for their patients, and governments have a duty to ensure that appropriate conditions exist to allow them to do so.”

Another unnamed doctor from Manama told World Today he was trapped in the hospital for three days.

“At the moment we are seized by police and army and there’s no way in or out and we have lack of food. We are really exhausted.

“And we have many serious injuries from different local centres. We cannot bring them safely here. Some doctors were assaulted and beaten by army and the police outside. We are really suffering.”

“We are under siege,” said Nihad el-Shirawi, an intensive care doctor who said she had been working for 48 hours at the hospital. “We cannot leave, and those on-call cannot come in.”

‘Lack of Basics’
In Libya the International Red Cross has withdrawn from the city of Benghazi, controlled by anti-government rebels, because of fears that an attack by pro-Gaddafi forces could be imminent.

Dr Abdulmajid Ali, a Libyan-born surgeon, told the World Service what he saw while he was there: “There is no infrastructure in Libya at all and especially in the health-care system which is virtually zero.

“The Libyans who are lucky enough to (be able to) afford it go to Egypt and Tunisia for medical treatment. But now there is a huge influx of casualties and the people there are not coping.

“Sometimes we have about five, six casualties that need an immediate operation to save their lives and we have only one (operating) theatre or we don’t have equipment to try to stop the bleeding or do an operation. There is basically lack of the basics,” Dr Ali said.

Dr Subhachaturas said doctors must be granted access to patients, medical facilities and equipment and the protection needed to carry out their professional activities freely — whether in times of peace of conflict.

“We will now be considering whether more should be done by the international community to collect evidence of assaults on medical personnel and facilities to enable those responsible to be prosecuted,” he said.

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