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If you’ve been following international news for the past year, you are most likely aware of the recent developments and political movements in the Middle East. While the Arab Spring has opened the possibility for a new wave of democracy in several Middle Eastern countries, an unfortunate new wave of crime and violence toward health facilities, doctors, and patients has emerged. This issue did not arise from the Arab Spring, nor is it a new issue, but recent events have propelled this violence into the international spotlight.
A new coalition of international nongovernmental organizations is calling on the global community to protect health workers, services, and infrastructure during armed conflict or civil disturbances. The Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition promotes respect for international humanitarian and human rights laws that relate to the safety and security of health facilities, workers, ambulances, and patients. This marks the first time an international coalition has come together to work on this issue.
A Johns Hopkins University scholar, lawyer and human rights advocate is making a final push this week for the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO) to commit formally to documenting attacks on health care workers in conflict zones. Leonard Rubenstein, JD, LLM, faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, will be at the World Health Assembly’s 65th session in Geneva, Switzerland May 21-26, representing the Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition.
UN aid agencies are under attack from doctors working with refugees who have been displaced by fighting in Sudan, with claims that they are not doing enough to get medical supplies through to children in desperate need. Common vaccines against childhood diseases are part of Unicef's programme to protect the most vulnerable, but supplies dried up nearly a year ago in areas of conflict around the Nuba mountains, according to research by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
When ambulance drivers in Gaza told Leonard Rubenstein about being delayed at checkpoints and blocked from hospitals, and when doctors in Kosovo described arrests and torture for providing care for rebels, they echoed the stories of multitudes in Mexico, Libya, Burma and beyond. "Health workers are trying to do their jobs, consistent with their ethical responsibilities, and are vulnerable because of it," says Rubenstein, JD, LLM, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights and associate faculty of the Berman Institute of Bioethics.
On May 11, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a panel discussion on The Protection of Health Care in Armed and Civil Conflict in Washington, DC. The panel featured Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, principal deputy director of the Office of Global Affairs, US Department of Health and Human Services; Leonard Rubenstein, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a member of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition; and Dr. Mark Steinbeck, health delegate and detention doctor for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The panel was moderated by Stephen Morrison, Director of CSIS’s Global Health Policy Center.
On Friday, May 11, from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) will host an event titled The Protection of Health Care in Armed and Civil Conflict. In the past year, protecting health care in armed and civil conflict has burst on the international agenda, with action at the UN Security Council and the World Health Organization, a new campaign by the ICRC, and a new international coalition. This event will discuss the new developments occurring in this space and review integrated strategies to protect health care in times of armed conflict and civil strife.
On April 28, Elizabeth Adams of the International Council of Nurses will lead a priority session at the Sixth EORNA Congress in Lisbon, Portugal. In this session, Future Proofing the Role of Operating Department Nurses, Adams will focus on the recent armed conflicts and the central role that operating department nurses have in very difficult circumstances. Her presentation makes note of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition, of which the International Council of Nurses is a founding member, and encourages attendees to be active in advance of the 65th World Health Assembly, May 21-26.
On April 26, Leonard Rubenstein of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will give a presentation at the 13th World Congress on Public Health in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as part of the session Armed Conflict, Human Rights Violations, and Health Impact. Rubenstein will present Advancing Protection of Health in Armed Conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross has stated that violence inflicted on health care services and personnel is one of the most significant and complex yet under-recognized problems in humanitarian practice.
Greater leadership is needed from the U.S. government to protect physicians and health facilities from increased attacks in armed conflict zones like Syria, experts told members of Congress in a special briefing today. “Adherence to norms won’t take place unless it becomes a diplomatic priority, with the U.S. and other states using their considerable leverage to demand adherence to international law,” Leonard Rubenstein, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics specializing in protection of human rights in areas of conflict, said in a prepared statement.