World Health Assembly Takes Action to Protect Health Workers in Humanitarian Crises

IntraHealth International and other founding members of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition commend 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 often at risk of assault, arrest, and sometimes kidnapping and death, compromising their ability to deliver quality care and remain on the job. Recent events in Syria and Bahrain vividly illustrate that health care workers and services are often targeted during armed conflict. 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 of humanitarian crises.

“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 Coalition urged passage of the new resolution—requiring the WHO to lead international data-collection of attacks on health workers, facilities, transports, and patients—for more than year, and on Friday, UN 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 accept the resolution so that the work of developing methods to collect data and report on such attacks can commence. Going forward, the coalition will advocate for effective implementation of the WHO 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.