Armed conflicts taking toll on healthcare worldwide

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Healthcare is frequently suspended, withdrawn or rendered impossible by violent events. A study covering last two and a half year by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released on Monday showed the extent to which healthcare is threatened in situations of violence or armed conflicts worldwide.
According to ICRC report, thousands of wounded and sick people can be denied effective healthcare when hospitals are damaged by explosions or forcibly entered by fighters, when ambulances are hijacked or unnecessarily delayed, thereby denying medical treatment to victims, and when healthcare personnel are threatened, kidnapped, injured or killed.
The report said the attacks on health-care structures, personnel and ambulances – as well as deliberately obstructing the efforts of the wounded to find help – are increasingly common throughout the world.
It said Pakistan was not immune to this form of humanitarian crisis. In the last 30 months, various medical facilities had been attacked by suicide bombers and gunmen, fighting occurred within hospitals, ambulances were destroyed and first responders were killed or injured by sequential bombing, and the victims of violence were put at further risk by delays in providing life-saving medical treatment.
According to Dr Robin Coupland, the ICRC surgeon who led the worldwide research, “The most shocking finding is that people die in large numbers not because they are direct victims of a roadside bomb or a shooting. They die because the ambulance does not get there in time, because healthcare personnel are prevented from doing their work, because hospitals are themselves targets of attacks or simply because the environment is too dangerous for effective healthcare to be delivered.”
He said a single act of violence that damages a hospital or kills healthcare workers has a flow-on effect, depriving many patients of treatment they would otherwise have received from the facility or workers in question. The effect on the wounded and sick of just one violent incident directed against medical personnel or facilities may be felt by hundreds or even thousands of people. Violence that prevents the delivery of healthcare is currently one of the most urgent yet overlooked humanitarian tragedies.
In 2009 a bomb blast in Mogadishu killed over 20 people, most of whom had just graduated from medical school. The attack on the young doctors not only brought their lives to a premature end but also destroyed any chance that tens of thousands of people might have had of receiving medical attention in the months and years to follow.
The healthcare community alone cannot address the challenge. It is imperative that states, their armed forces and also others exercising authority recognise that violence that disrupts the delivery of healthcare is one of the most serious and widespread humanitarian challenges.
“Addressing the issue effectively will require humanitarian dialogue, respect for the law and the adoption of appropriate measures by states, armed forces and non-state actors,” said Mr Yves Daccord, the Director General of the ICRC. “The ICRC is committed to working with all concerned in order to secure effective and impartial health care.”