May 29, Washington, DC—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. “Systematic data collection will be the basis for developing prevention strategies and holding perpetrators accountable,” said Maurice I. Middleberg, vice president for global policy at IntraHealth International.
The Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition urged passage of the new World Health Assembly resolution—requiring the WHO to lead international data collection of attacks on health workers, facilities, transports and patients—for more than a year, and on Friday, WHO member states at the 65th World Health Assembly in Geneva adopted it.
“Health care services and the health workers who provide them are never more desperately needed, but never more vulnerable, than when violence convulses a society,” said Leonard Rubenstein, senior scholar at the Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Numerous organizations joined coalition members in a statement encouraging the WHO member states to adopt the resolution so that the work of developing methods to collect data and report on attacks can commence. The statement was made on behalf of the World Health Professional Alliance, which includes the World Medical Association, International Council of Nurses, International Pharmaceutical Federation, World Confederation for Physical Therapy and World Dental Federation, and the statement was supported by the American Public Health Association, CARE, Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Doctors for Human Rights, International Health Protection Initiative, International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organisations, International Medical Corps, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, International Rescue Committee, IntraHealth International, Management Sciences for Health, Medact, Merlin, Physicians for Human Rights, Women’s Refugee Commission and World Federation of Public Health Associations. Going forward, the coalition will advocate for effective implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution.
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 during periods of armed conflict or civil violence. Founding members include IntraHealth International, Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Doctors for Human Rights, International Council of Nurses, International Health Protection Initiative, Karen Human Rights Group, Medact, Merlin - UK and Physicians for Human Rights.