Providing or seeking health care in a conflict zone is a perilous undertaking. Every year health workers are kidnapped, threatened, tortured, and killed. Hospitals and clinics are targeted and bombed. Patients are shot. In Syria alone, 187 health facilities have been attacked since March 2011, and 615 health workers were killed—141 of them by torture and execution.
One doctor has made health care in conflict the center of his work.
This week I took an online course offered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about health care responsibilities in times of conflict. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to consider the ethics of being a health worker in a war situation in today’s disturbing reality of what war is. There is one especially harrowing and dramatic video clip in the course: it shows the 2009 graduation ceremony of a group of Somali doctors—the first to graduate in many years. And as we look at the young doctors, proud in their robes, there is an explosion that cuts off the speaker and the picture—and then the scene is one of bodies everywhere.
“Let me treat my patients,” pleads a Syrian doctor whose hospital has been repeatedly targeted. Around the world, attacks on health workers and facilities have reached new heights, and this violence affects women disproportionately. More than 75% of the health workforce in many countries is female, and many women are left without access to much-needed health services.
On September 8, the United Nations Security Council and Member States convened at an Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, to address the devastating impact these violent settings have on the security and healthy development of children. This occasion marked the second open debate on this issue, following the Secretary General’s July 1 Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, and sadly comes at a time when children have been forced to bear the brunt of some of the most severe ramifications of war and civil unrest.
Local and international health workers in Libya face a complex array of threats to their physical, financial, and emotional security. Earlier this month, Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy and Federal Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj organized evacuations for thousands of Indian nurses who worked at Libyan hospitals in Tripoli and Benghazi.
IntraHealth International joins the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition in calling on the government of Israel, Hamas, and armed groups to respect humanitarian law and cease targeting health facilities and health workers in their attacks. We call on all groups to ensure that civilians maintain access to much-needed health care.
Months of violence in South Sudan have led to cholera outbreaks, food shortages, and innumerable orphaned children. This dispatch from IntraHealth’s in-country team describes the state of health care in the midst of war.