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The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Sud Kivu province has been an area of armed conflict for many years, with various rebel factions fighting for control over the resource-rich region. The continued fighting has disrupted health services — which were weak to begin with — due to geographic isolation and poorly supported health workers.
Lack of access to health care facilities, for both patients and health care providers, is one of the main obstacles to the provision of health care. There are severe staffing shortages in hospitals and other health facilities, especially in areas experiencing high levels of violence.
Leonard S. Rubenstein of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health took part in the 65th World Health Assembly in Geneva last month. Upon his return, he told the magazine of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health about the new resolution requiring the World Health Organization to lead international data collection of attacks on health workers, facilities, transports and patients.
The Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition commends the World Health Assembly—the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO)—on its unprecedented step to protect the lives of health workers and patients in humanitarian crises by spearheading global efforts to document the number of attacks on medical services. In violent conflicts, where health needs are most urgent, health workers are at risk of assault, arrest and sometimes kidnapping and death, compromising their ability to deliver care and remain on the job. But such attacks usually go unreported; with a body of evidence, the global community can better protect fragile health systems and those on the frontlines.
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.