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Violence against healthcare workers must end

Friday August 12, 2011

Ambulance fire.

Violence against healthcare must end: it's a matter of life and death

Attacks against healthcare workers, health facilities and people in need of medical care during armed conflict and other situations of violence pose one of the major humanitarian challenges in the world today and must end. This was the message delivered today, 12 August 2011, at the Australian launch of the global International Red Cross and Red Crescent Health Care in Danger project in Sydney.

Robert Tickner, Chief Executive Officer of Australian Red Cross, launched the four-year project, aimed at addressing the violent acts which obstruct the delivery of health care, the strengthening of the protection of the sick and wounded and ensuring their safe access to health care during armed conflict and other situations of violence.

'Tragically, Red Cross and Red Crescent workers, including Australians, do witness such violent and preventable acts and they see first hand the consequences those acts have on people in need of assistance,' he said. 'Last year Australian Red Cross sent more than 65 aid workers on health related missions overseas, to countries including Afghanistan, Sudan and Haiti. Those health professionals carry out vital work, often in very difficult circumstances. Australian Red Cross is committed to ensuring greater protection for them and other health workers and will be actively working to promote the aims of this project.'

Jeremy England, Head of the Australia Office of the International Committee of the Red Cross presented Health Care in Danger: Making the Case, the first-ever report analysing violence against health care in armed conflict and other situations of violence in many different countries.

The report's key finding is that assaults on health care personnel, facilities and vehicles in such situations leave millions around the world without care just when they need it most. It also reveals that large numbers of people die, not because they are direct victims of a roadside bomb or a shooting, but because the ambulance does not arrive in time.

Further, health care personnel are prevented from doing their work because hospitals are themselves targets of attack, or simply because the environment is too dangerous for effective health care to be  delivered.

'There are too many examples of health care under attack - hospitals in Sri Lanka and Somalia shelled, ambulances in Libya shot at, and paramedics in Colombia killed,' Jeremy England said. 'Addressing the issue effectively will require dialogue, respect for the law and the adoption of appropriate measures by States, armed forces and non-state actors.'

Nuha Markus, a former Iraqi journalist, told the gathering today of kidnapping, threats and violence against medical staff in Iraq, making them afraid to go to work and forcing some to leave the country. 'I believe that the health care in danger project is important, as the most vulnerable in the Iraqi community continue to suffer and need support,' she said.

Ruth Jebb, an Australian Red Cross nurse and midwife, spoke of how she had personally witnessed the insecurity of health workers, 'This insecurity means that a health clinic for sick children I was working in was not always the safe haven it should have been.'

Deliberate assaults on health-care personnel, facilities and transports, as well as on the wounded and sick, violate international law. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols set out the right of the wounded and sick - combatants and civilians alike - to be respected and protected during armed conflict and to receive timely medical treatment.

For more information or to organise interviews, please contact: Pauline Wall, Communications Officer, ICRC (02) 9388 9039 or 0418 485 120.

To learn more about the report visit the ICRC website.

TV news footage about the report is available. To obtain a copy, contact Jan Powell: +41 22
730 2511 / or download it from the
ICRC Video Newsroom.

Photos are also available for media use. Download them from the ICRC website.