Violence against healthcare: a global concern

June 20, 2012


On the occasion of the 65th World Health Assembly in May 2012, the inaugural edition of Global Health was published. This issue includes short articles written by leaders in various health-related organisations, including UN agencies, ministries of healh and major NGOs.

Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is one of the contributors to this issue. He starts his article entitled ‘Violence against healthcare: a global concern’ describing the case of the Baba Amr district of Homs, Syria. A joint team of the ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent visited Baba Amr in March of this year to respond to the grave humanitarian crisis in the area.

He wrote: “A fleet of ambulances with medical personnel stood ready to evacuate the wounded, the seriously ill and the dead. The ICRC reiterated its call to all those involved in the violence to ensure at least a two-hour cessation of fighting daily to allow the prompt delivery of humanitarian assistance. Yet several days after permission was given to enter Baba Amr, the team was still prevented from accessing the district, unable to help those in urgent need. It may never be known how many lives were lost and how much suffering was caused as a result.”

The Baba Amr case was well documented and highlighted in the media. However, most incidents that in one way or another deny the right of wounded and sick people to healthcare in situations of armed conflict go unreported, Kellenberger states. Further, ambulances or hospitals are in some cases directly targeted, killing or wounding healthcare staff and patients.

Healthcare in danger resolution

At the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in November-December 2011, a resolution was adopted titled ‘healthcare in danger’. This resolution demands an effective response from states, national societies and the healthcare community at large. It calls upon the ICRC to initiate consultations with all major stakeholders in order to identify and agree upon concrete measures for making the delivery of healthcare safer in dangerous situations worldwide.

Kellenberger concludes: “This is an important step towards ensuring that violence, both real and threatened, against healthcare workers, facilities and beneficiaries is more widely acknowledged to be one the most serious yet neglected humanitarian concerns today. The more the urgency of this issue is recognised and its humanitarian consequences deplored, the less excuse those responsible for safeguarding healthcare will have for inaction.”