Posted by: ihfgeneva | May 27, 2014

Health Care under Attack: a call for action

Health under Attack PhotoA WHO technical briefing – Health Care under Attack: a call for action was organised during the 67th World Health Assembly in Geneva Switzerland, on Wednesday, 21 May 2014. The session examined the scale, recent trends and the nature of attacks on health-care workers and facilities in both conflict and non-conflict settings. Targeting of health-care workers and facilities has grave consequences for the delivery of impartial and efficient care and the right to health in such settings.

Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO-Director General, attended the meeting, signalling WHO’s firm support and commitment to the voice of the advocacy campaign.  Other session panellists included Ms. Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA), who presented the problem of attacks on health workers in the broader context of humanitarian relief.

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), provided ICRC’s perspective and attempts at addressing the problem by way of the Health Care in Danger project. Mr. Maurer stressed the importance of continued support and increase in the advocacy campaign. For ICRC, the focus of current and future activities will be on:

–          Testing recommendations at country level;

–          Ensuring momentum and support is maintained for the advocacy campaign

–          Raising of political awareness;

Country experiences in situations of large scale humanitarian emergency settings where presented by Dr. Marguerite Samba, Minister of Public Health, Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action for Central African Republic (CAR) and by Dr. Lul P. Riek, Director General of International Health and Coordination, South Sudan.  In the CAR, the national health infrastructure, it was reported, has been left almost fully dysfunctional by the armed conflict.  This has necessitated implementation of an emergency response programme led by the international community. For health care workers and patients, the prevailing insecurity has engendered:

–          Denial of access to health centres for health-care workers and patients

–          Destruction  of equipment and vehicles, including mobile clinics

–          Emergence of a growing market for fake medicines

Mr. Juan Jose Quintana Aranguaran, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the UN and Specialised Agencies in Geneva, reported on how the country’s focus has been on and remains the imposition of a strong and nationwide legal framework in order to ensure protection and security for healthcare works and ambulances, as well as respect of distinctive emblems, such as the Red Cross and the country’s Mision Medical.  Mr. Aranguaran pointed out that the country’s success has been due to the adoption of a holistic approach which engaged local and international stakeholders beyond health such as the Ministries of Labour, Defence, the ICRC, PAHO, academia, etc.

The Philippine experience reported by Dr. Jose Rubillios Llacuna, Regional Director (Region VIII), Department of Health, in the wake of hurricane haiyan, demonstrated strategies that are vital in keeping health care workers safe during disasters.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO Assistant Director General, Polio and Emergencies, the session Chair, summarised lessons learnt as follows:

–       The value in preparedness, which necessitates:

o  Existence of resilient healthcare infrastructure;

o  Use of technology to enable forecasting;

o  Empowerment of local governments;

o  Use of multi stakeholders in providing services, eg the military for evacuation

–          Rapid and efficient coordination of programmes among national and international stakeholders;

–          Importance of leadership in implementing emergency response programmes;

–          Consideration of climate change as a health determinant;

–          Importance of enhancing population awareness

The delegates were unanimous in reaffirming the principles of the sanctity of health-care facilities and the safety of health-care workers, in both conflict and non-conflict settings.

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