Experts gather to tackle threats to health care from armed violence

(23.04.2012) London – Global health experts will tackle the deadly disruptions to health care caused by armed violence at the first ever meeting to address this major yet little acknowledged humanitarian problem.

The London "Health Care in Danger" meeting today (Monday 23 April) is part of a four-year project to confront the insecurity, violence and threats that undermine the safe and effective delivery of health care in armed conflicts and other emergencies. It is the first of a series of expert consultations that will take place across the world to find remedies to a problem that leaves patients untreated, clinics shut down and the wounded and the sick left to die.

Research from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) shows that people die in large numbers not because they are direct victims of a roadside bomb or a shooting but because the ambulance does not get there in time, because health-care personnel are prevented from doing their work, because hospitals are themselves targets of attacks or simply because the environment is too dangerous for effective health care to be delivered.

Ambulances have been used in suicide attacks in Afghanistan, clearly-marked hospitals hit by rocket fire in Libya, emergency rooms invaded by gunmen in Iraq, doctors murdered in Somalia and patients executed inside medical vehicles in Colombia.

"When armed confrontations occur, medical needs soar just as the ability to meet them plummets," said Vivienne Nathanson, the Director of Professional Activities at the British Medical Association and a speaker at the London meeting. "While this problem cannot be tackled by the health community alone, we do need to examine what measures we as health-care professionals can take in the face of what has become an untenable situation."

At the London meeting, over 100 medical professionals and humanitarian specialists will develop the health community's own recommendations on what governments and inter-governmental organizations can do to make sure that health care can be delivered in a secure environment. In addition, the symposium will explore how health-care professionals working amid violence manage the dilemmas arising from being a witness to possible violations of international law.

"Medical ethics are very much at the centre of the debate among health professionals in situations of armed violence," said Robin Coupland, a medical adviser at the ICRC and author of a study examining the issue. "In environments of violence the wounded or sick are at times refused treatment. Discrimination arising from a polarized conflict climate results in the loss of lives."

This symposium, organized by the ICRC, British Red Cross, British Medical Association and World Medical Association, will produce a public report summarizing its main findings and recommendations.

While the London symposium focuses on the role of health-care professionals, other events taking place this year and next will bring together military professionals and other weapon bearers, civil society representatives, various Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and other policy makers to tackle the problem of insecurity in health care provision.

For more information, please contact:
Sarah Cotton, ICRC London, tel: +44 207 877 7579 or +44 786 041 2806
Sean Maguire, ICRC London, tel: +44 207 877 7330 or +44 788 740 2632
Bijan Frederic Farnoudi (English, French, German), ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2180 or +41 79 536 9259
Nigel Duncan, WMA, tel: +44 208 997 3653 or +44 7984 944 403

To learn more about safe access to health care go to:

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