On World Health Day, 7 April, Red Cross calls for greater protection and respect for the role of health care workers in armed conflicts across the globe.
The deaths of three Red Cross and Red Crescent workers in Yemen, Syria and Mali last week graphically highlights the risks humanitarian workers face, as well as the consequences for the people they are trying to assist.
Violence against health care workers is an especially heinous act. It represents a further act of harm against wounded and sick people by targeting those who would try to help them.
Dr Debra Blackmore recently returned from Afghanistan, where she was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross. As she explains, attacks on humanitarian workers have a flow-on effect to the entire health care sector.
"It's very difficult to attract health care workers to areas of conflict where they don't feel safe. And that has certainly become a reality on the ground.
"There have been times where health care workers have been targeted. That disadvantages the communities where people involved in armed conflicts and their families come from."
In Afghanistan, Dr Blackmore's duties included providing safe passage for the wounded and the sick to health care facilities, facilitating first aid training for Red Crescent volunteers and conflict participants, and addressing the safety of workers exposed to dangerous situations.
A ICRC poster used in Afghanistan to increase understanding of the need to protect health care facilities. Photo: Debra Blackmore.
Although the red cross, red crescent and red crystal emblems are globally identifiable, local actors may not always be aware that these emblems signify neutral and impartial assistance. To this end, educating those involved in armed conflict is vitally important.
"Our first aid program for arms carriers has become a very important part of disseminating what the emblem means," explains Dr Blackmore.
"This highlights to them what our role is, so they can take that information back to communities," she says. "By protecting health care workers and facilities, they are actually ensuring that their families have access to health care when they need it."
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