World Medical Association supports health personnel on trial

The World Medical Association has spoken out strongly in support of physicians and other healthcare personnel who are facing trial tomorrow (Friday) for helping patients during a military curfew in the town of Cizre in Turkey.

The 14 volunteer health care workers, including Dr. Halis Yerlikaya, a member of the Turkish Medical Association Council, are accused of aiding, and in some cases being members of, a terrorist organisation after rescuing patients with serious health problems during hostilities in Cizre in January 2016. The first trial hearing takes place tomorrow.

During the 79-day curfew in Cizre, emergency health care could not be delivered and many citizens and healthcare professionals lost their lives.

In a letter to the Turkish President, Prof. Dr. Sinan Adıyaman, President of the Turkish Medical Association Central Council, said: ‘It was the period when people tried to find safe haven in basements of buildings in the midst of armed conflicts, where they could have no access to healthcare and where health units-ambulances could not reach.

‘It was in such circumstances that healthcare workers took action with an ambulance, as required in man-made emergencies or natural disasters, to reach people in need after informing authorities and asking them to facilitate their work. Security forces denied permission to healthcare workers and their ambulance. As a result, tens of civilians including children died without any medical intervention’.

WMA President Dr. Yoshitake Yokokura, has strongly supported the Turkish Medical Association. ‘WMA policy makes it absolutely clear that physicians and other healthcare workers are obliged to perform their duties during armed conflict. Normal ethical standards apply during these times. The physician must always give the necessary care impartially and without discrimination on the basis of age, disease or disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political affiliation, race, sexual orientation, or social standing or any other similar criterion.

‘All governments should comply with the Geneva Conventions to ensure that physicians and other health care professionals can safely provide care to everyone in need during situations of violence. It is totally unacceptable that volunteer physicians and other health workers are facing trial for doing their ethical duty’.

In a letter to the Turkish authorities, Dr. Yokokura writes: ‘Penalizing those merely providing health care to injured people in a context of civil unrest on the ground of terrorism propaganda is an aberration and mostly a flagrant infringement of medical ethics and human rights standards. This is therefore a matter of grave concerns to us. We deplore any practices threatening the safety of physicians and the provision of health-care services. The protection of health professionals is fundamental, so that they can fulfil their duties to provide care for those in need’.

Dr. Yokokura called on the Turkish authorities to drop the charges and acquit the health workers immediately and unconditionally.