Protecting Health-Care Workers in the Firing Line


Several medical associations and non-governmental organisations have launched an initiative to tackle violence against aid workers in conflict zones. Priya Shetty reports.

“In Syria, having a medical kit visible on your car seat can be more dangerous than having a Kalashnikov”, says Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, medical adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “Health-care workers in conflict zones are literally being hunted down.”

Eshaya-Chauvin was talking at an ICRC conference about violence against health-care workers in London, UK, on Dec 3. The ICRC, along with key players in global health such as the World Medical Association (WMA), the British Medical Association (BMA), and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is spearheading a project called Healthcare in Danger to raise awareness of the way that medical workers in war zones are targeted.

The Geneva Conventions and human rights laws to protect sick people during conflict state that all wounded and sick must have access to medical assistance, but this international framework is frequently flouted. For many in the humanitarian community, this situation is reaching a crisis point that requires urgent action both internationally and on the ground.

A 2011 report by the ICRC recorded violent acts in 16 countries and gives some insight into the perpetrators and the victims, and shows how indiscriminate this violence is. The state was responsible for a third of the events, and armed groups for another third. A point worth highlighting, says Eshaya-Chauvin, is that attacks are not just aimed at international humanitarian workers—in many situations, local medical staff bear the brunt of the attacks. Indeed, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were affected in 34.5% of attacks, and local health-care workers in 25.6%.

The full article continues at on The Lancet’s website.