Medical Care Under Threat in 2013


In Bahrain, two nurses and a doctor remain imprisoned during the holidays simply for doing their job: treating the injured during the government crackdown. Turkey is considering a bill that seeks to criminalize emergency medical care -- the latest example of the government trying to intimidate doctors for caring for those injured in last summer's protests. And in Syria, the attacks against physicians, hospitals and medical transport have reached such epidemic proportions as to constitute war crimes, exacerbating an already massive humanitarian and human rights crisis.

In these countries and beyond, 2013 hit a low point, bringing about a new and more ferocious wave of targeted attacks on medical personnel and facilities. In an effort to destroy opposition, hide wounds inflicted by government authorities, and intimidate doctors from treating protesters and fighters, medical care -- and those who take an oath to provide it -- has come under a full assault.

In Bahrain, the government has released some of the many doctors and nurses imprisoned following the 2011 anti-government protests. But two nurses and a surgeon remain in jail. They recently wrote a handwritten letter from behind bars, highlighting the poor and overcrowded conditions. And the Bahraini government continues to prevent many doctors from working in government hospitals and providing care to injured civilians in desperate need of treatment.

In Turkey, 2013 brought malicious examples of government authorities intimidating and harassing medical workers, including the targeting of clearly identified medical facilities with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. Dozens of physicians who treated injured anti-government demonstrators were also beaten and detained.

The latest example of the Turkish government's relentless offensive against doctors is a bill that seeks to criminalize certain aspects of emergency care. Doctors could be fined and even jailed for providing care in emergencies, depending on the presence of a state ambulance. This is not only absurd -- medical care should be based on need, not the arrival of a state transport vehicle -- but would also put doctors in direct conflict with their ethical and professional responsibility to care for the wounded. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health and the World Medical Association are among those who have warned about the chilling effect such a law would have on accessing medical care.

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