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.
In January, IntraHealth International submitted a statement on behalf of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition to the World Health Organization’s Executive Board Meeting in Geneva. Submitted as part of agenda item 8.2, poliomyelitis, the full text of the statement is below and also published by the WHO along with other statements by NGOs that are in official relations with the WHO. IntraHealth is a steering committee member of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition.
The World Medical Association has expressed its extreme concern to the Iraqi Prime Minister about “worrying health conditions” in Camp Liberty, the former United States military installation in Baghdad, now being used to house the members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran who previously resided in Camp Ashraf. ‘According to testimonies and reports from human rights organisations the basic rights of the 2700 residents—such as access to physicians and medicine, the confidentiality of physician-patient relationship or the right of patients to have interpreter and accompanying nurses when needed—are frequently violated.'
Representatives from Doctors Without Borders just back from a mission to Iraq, report conditions in that country are grim. They say their medical activities are focused mainly in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq because they have no access to territories seized by the militant group Islamic State.
Intense shelling and aerial assaults in northern and central Iraq have hit hospitals and other medical facilities, some supported by the international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), depriving civilians of much needed medical care. MSF calls upon all parties to the conflict to respect health facilities, to allow medical staff to continue carrying out their work, and to preserve full access to health services.
Staff from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have delivered badly needed medical supplies to the main hospital in Fallujah. Because of persistent heavy fighting between government forces and armed groups, this is the first time ICRC personnel have managed to enter the city since January. They found immense needs and a situation that is extremely dire.
Although the government has denied attacking Fallujah General Hospital, the weapons used in the attacks – mortar shells, direct fire weapons, and barrel bombs – are consistent with Iraqi military equipment. In deliberately attacking the hospital, the government of Iraq has unfortunately followed the nefarious example of its Syrian neighbor.
The conflicts in Syria and Iraq possess unique traits, but they share some underlying factors.
Barrel Bombs Hit Residential Areas. Iraqi government forces battling armed groups in the western province of Anbar since January 2014 have repeatedly struck Fallujah General Hospital with mortar shells and other munitions, Human Rights Watch said today. The recurring strikes on the main hospital, including with direct fire weapons, strongly suggest that Iraqi forces have targeted it, which would constitute a serious violation of the laws of war.
Throughout 2013, international humanitarian actors have faced major challenges responding to conflicts and natural disasters across the globe. Tens of thousands of people died in Syria and millions were displaced while international actors struggled to get access to desperate people.