New Action to Protect Health Workers Welcomed

(28.05.2012) A major step forward in the campaign to protect health workers in conflict zones has been welcomed by the World Medical Association. In a statement today (Monday) the WMA commended the decision last week by the World Health Assembly to support a resolution calling for the WHO to document the number of attacks on medical services.

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition, including the World Medical Association, has campaigned for the past year to encourage the WHO Member States to adopt the resolution so that the work of developing methods to collect data and report on attacks could start. The coalition welcomed what it called ‘this unprecedented step to spearhead global efforts to protect the lives of health workers and patients in humanitarian crises'.

Dr. Jose Gomes do Amaral, President of the WMA, said: ‘For some time we have been expressing concern about the growing threats to physicians and medical personnel caught up in uprisings and mass protests throughout the world. Physicians involved in treating the wounded have been attacked, injured and, tragically, killed in many parts of the world. But no-one has been able to document all these incidents.

‘We are delighted that the WHO will now take on this task and we hope that with this new body of evidence, the global community can better protect fragile health systems and those on the frontlines.'

Maurice I. Middleberg, vice president for global policy at IntraHealth International, said: ‘Systematic data collection will be the basis for developing prevention strategies and holding perpetrators accountable'.

Leonard Rubenstein, senior scholar at the Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, added: ‘Health care services and the health workers who provide them are never more desperately needed, but never more vulnerable, than when violence convulses a society'.

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition includes the WMA, the International Council of Nurses, International Pharmaceutical Federation, World Confederation for Physical Therapy, and World Dental Federation, and the American Public Health Association, CARE, Center for Public Health and Human Rights of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Doctors for Human Rights, International Health Protection Initiative, International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations, International Medical Corps, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, International Rescue Committee, IntraHealth International, Management Sciences for Health, Medact, Merlin, Physicians for Human Rights, Women's Refugee Commission, and World Federation of Public Health Associations.

The coalition intends now to advocate for effective implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution.