“One of the first victims of war is the health care system itself.” – Marco Baldan, Red Cross Chief War Surgeon.
On December 12-14, the first ever IFMSA Sub Regional Training on Health Care in Danger was held in Stockholm, Sweden. Students from Europe, Egypt and Kenya gathered to discuss threats and violence against health care personnel and facilities. This is a concern in all countries. It is most evident in conflicts, but it is also of importance in countries at peace, as these three examples show.
Mogadishu, Somalia, 2009. The graduation of a class of medical students is subject to a bombing, killing 25 people and injuring over 80. This is the second batch of Somali medical students to successfully complete their medical training in twenty years. Most of the victims are newly graduated doctors, having an extremely severe impact on continued access to healthcare in Somalia for years to come.
Wardak, Afghanistan, 2009. Armed soldiers enter Ghazi Mohammed Khan hospital, searching for an enemy soldier. The hospital staff is ordered to report any enemy soldier arriving to the hospital. When they refuse, citing medical ethics, their lives are threatened at gunpoint. Afterwards, many of the workers are too afraid to continue working at the hospital.
Malmö, Sweden, 2014. A political demonstration takes a violent turn and the police force is accused of excessive violence towards the demonstrant’s. At the local hospital, police men block the entrance to the ER, asking people seeking care for identification.
In armed conflicts, health care personnel are being targeted in attacks, ambulances are being denied access at checkpoints and pharmacies are being raided. Data from recent years suggest that there may be an increase in violence against health care personnel and facilities. These attacks are a threat not only towards health care workers themselves, but towards entire healthcare systems. We need to speak up for access to health care; part of the Human Right to Health.
Starting with the man in the mirror, we wondered what we as medical students could do to address these problems. Given the complex nature of the threats, it is impossible for us to solve the problem ourselves. What we can do, however, is to focus on an issue dear to our hearts; the need of the patient and our professional ethics.
Supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, we have launched the project Health Care in Danger – Ethical Principles of Health Care in Conflicts and Other Emergencies. With this project, we aim to increase the knowledge about International Humanitarian Law, medical ethics and human rights. We need to raise awareness on how these interact in the context of violence and threats of violence facing health care personnel.
We want to build a health care system that can withstand the pressure of armed conflict and other emergencies and are positive that a thorough understanding of medical ethics and their importance plays a key role. We build capacity through symposiums, lectures, trainings and workshops. Anno Giorgadze, IFMSA member from Georgia took part in the Sub Regional Training in Sweden:
“I always knew that doctors were under pressure. But before the training “Health care in danger” I could never imagine the problem to be this big, global and serious. On the training, participants clearly saw the videos with facts of violence against health care workers. Sadly, population doesn’t understand that with this kind of behavior they will suffer themselves. As a new generation of health care professionals I want to raise awareness of health care in danger on national and international level and I’m sure all the medical students will join me. So! In the end I want to tell: Save your doctors, save your future health!!!”
Our participants have left Stockholm with increased knowledge on Health Care in Danger, a better understanding of the importance of medical ethics and dilemmas that may arise in armed conflict and other emergencies. They have also started to draft plans on how to develop their own Health Care in Danger project and on how to advocate for the inclusion of this topic in their medical curriculums.
Next up, we’re hosting another workshop on this topic during pre-EMR in Cairo, Egypt and during pre-GA in Istanbul, Turkey. We look forward to spreading knowledge and hope to give medical students the tools to take a stand for access to healthcare, in every situation.
See more pictures of the successful event on our Facebook page here!
Entry written by
Alice Claeson, Head of Logistics, Sub Regional Training Health Care in Danger
Hana Awil, President IFMSA-Sweden
Anna-Theresia Ekman, Health Care in Danger Focal Point IFMSA-Sweden