As major emergencies around the globe increase in scale, complexity and frequency, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for an end to the targeting of healthcare workers in conflicts and other humanitarian crises, which represent a breach of the fundamental right to health.
On tomorrow’s World Humanitarian Day, celebrated every August 19, WHO will draw attention to the continued trend of attacks on healthcare workers, hospitals, clinics and ambulances in Syria, Gaza, Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan and other areas.
Threats and harassment of healthcare workers in west African countries have also been a worrying element of the Ebola virus disease outbreak. These professionals are taking personal risks to provide critical medical care, but have been threatened, shunned and stigmatized.
“Doctors, nurses and other health workers must be allowed to carry out their life-saving humanitarian work free of threat of violence and insecurity,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general.
Dr. Richard Brennan, director of WHO’s Department of Emergency Risk Management and Humanitarian Response, adds, “Assaults on health workers and facilities seriously affect access to health care, depriving patients of treatment and interrupting measures to prevent and control contagious diseases. WHO has a specific mandate to protect the human right to health, especially for people affected by humanitarian emergencies.”
While the adverse impacts of attacks on healthcare have been well documented in conflicts such as Syria and South Sudan, Gaza, health workers are also being prevented from carrying out their essential work outside of war-zones. In Pakistan and Nigeria, polio vaccinators, most of them female, have been specifically targeted.
As part of its lead role in coordinating the health response to international emergencies, WHO is working with partners to better document, prevent and respond to such incidents. Protecting those who care for the sick and vulnerable in the world’s most difficult circumstances is one of the most pressing responsibilities of the international community.