ICRC and World Medical Association working together for safer health-care delivery
Geneva (WMA / ICRC) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Medical Association (WMA) signed a memorandum of understanding in Geneva today, in which the two organisations agree to join forces in a worldwide effort to combat violence against patients and health-care workers.
The memorandum of understanding brings the WMA on board as a partner in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's "Heath Care in Danger" project, a four-year initiative to tackle threats to health care from armed violence. A recent ICRC report revealed assaults on health-care personnel, facilities and vehicles leave millions around the world without care when they need it most. It recorded over 900 violent incidents against health care in 22 countries in 2012, although most incidents and their repercussions go unrecorded.
"Lack of security, violence, and the threat of violence prevent ordinary people from obtaining health-care services every day. This partnership with the WMA will help ensure the medical profession worldwide is part of a dynamic community addressing this issue," said Yves Daccord, director-general of the ICRC. "The challenges of delivering impartial and efficient health care are immense, and vary from country to country. But there are common trends, such as direct attacks on health-care workers and facilities, and restriction of movement for ambulances. We need a broad-based collaborative effort at local and international levels to bring about lasting results."
Commenting on the memorandum of understanding, Dr Otmar Kloiber, secretary-general of the WMA, said: "Together with the ICRC, we will continue to highlight and address this damage that is being done to the delivery of health care in conflict zones, uprisings and mass protests around the world. Because local health-care agencies and providers are the first affected, it makes sense that national medical associations represented by the WMA play a key role in identifying concrete measures at a local level to improve security for patients and health-care workers alike."
The Keysaney Hospital in Mogadishu provides an example of how essential medical services are delivered in one of the most dangerous environments in the world. The security situation in the Somali capital has now eased, but Dr Yusuf Mohamed Hassan, the hospital's director since 2004, still remembers battles raging nearby. He explains that the hospital survived 20 years of war by prioritizing the delivery of care solely on medical grounds: "The hospital serves everyone in Mogadishu, regardless of their clan affiliation or political views. Despite the challenges and pressures, we continue to work to save lives. I believe that we have been able to function over time simply because of our impartiality and neutrality."
The ICRC's medical adviser, Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, agrees that it is essential for health-care workers to respect medical ethics: "In situations of armed violence, the wounded or sick are sometimes refused treatment. Discrimination, even arising from a polarized climate, is not acceptable." Today's partnership will help ensure health-care workers are properly trained in their role and responsibilities so they can better manage the dilemmas that arise when violence breaks out.
Attending the signature ceremony in Geneva, Dr Xavier Deau, an elected member of the World Medical Association Council, said: "Through its network of medical associations worldwide, the WMA will contribute to national consultations and share best practices on the measures needed to protect health-care workers and patients." These may involve changes to domestic legislation. For instance, in Colombia, a government decree promoting the protective use of a national emblem by all medical workers has been successful. In Yemen, a declaration signed by the government last December was a first step towards securing access to health care in the country.
The "Heath Care in Danger" project, which is scheduled to run until 2015, aims to improve the efficiency and delivery of effective and impartial health care in armed violence by mobilizing a range of experts to develop a series of practical measures for implementation by decision-makers, humanitarian organizations and health professionals. See CRJ 7:4 for article by Dr Robin Coupland, Advisor on Armed Violence for the ICRC.
The World Medical Association is the independent confederation of national medical associations from 102 countries and represents more than nine million physicians. Acting on behalf of patients and physicians, the WMA endeavours to achieve the highest possible standards of medical care, ethics, education and health-related human rights for all people.