World Health Organization urged to act over assaults on health personnel and facilities

May 13, 2011

The World Health Organization has been urged by a number of health and non government organizations to take action on the growing number of assaults on health personnel and facilities in areas of conflict and civil unrest.

In a joint letter to Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO, the organizations say these assaults pose a threat to health, health systems and health worker retention. And they urge the WHO to convene a group of experts to find a way of systematically collecting data on what is happening around the world and identify research needed to enhance the protection of health systems.

The letters declares: ‘In recent weeks reports have emerged of doctors being arrested and assaulted for complying with their ethical duty to provide care to patients in need. They provide only a snapshot of a much wider problem of the lack of protection of health functions during crises. These assaults not only result in obstructed access to health, but pose a formidable challenge to health systems, limiting the effective operation of health systems during instability while also impeding the development of health infrastructure and meeting human resource needs once stability returns.’
It says the WHO has the authority to assist all health personnel in such hazardous situations where they risk their lives for the care of their patients by contributing its particular expertise to developing methods for collecting evidence on these assaults. What was required was a plan for the collection of data, for assuring reporting of the data collected, identifying research needs for gaining better understanding of the problem, and providing guidance on how protection can be enhanced.
This was in line with the WHO’s key functions to produce health statistics and ‘to reduce the health consequences of emergencies, disasters, crises and conflicts, and minimize their social and economic impact.’ The letters says that a clear evidence base is crucial if the nature and extent of how crises impact short-term and long-term on health systems is to be understood and interventions for preventing them are to be put in place.

The organizations that signed the letter were the World Medical Association, the International Medical Corps, Human Rights Watch, Save the Children UK, Merlin, IntraHealth International, Medact, Physicians for Human Rights, International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, the International Rescue Committee, Health Poverty Action UK and International Health Protection Initiative, Public Health Institute, Management Sciences for Health, Family Care International and People’s Health Movement.

The full text of the letter can be found at: