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Australia: Health Care in Danger project launched with the Australian Red Cross

27-09-2011 Feature

"Attacks against health-care workers, health facilities and people in need of medical care during armed conflict and other situations of violence pose one of the major humanitarian challenges in the world today and must end". This was the message delivered at the Australian launch of the Health Care in Danger (HCiD) project.

At an event hosted by the Australian Red Cross and the ICRC in Sydney on 12 August, the four-year project was formally launched by Robert Tickner, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Red Cross. The HCiD project aims at reducing the levels of violence obstructing the delivery of health care, strengthening the protection of the sick and wounded, and ensuring safe access to effective and impartial health care by those affected by armed conflict and violence.

Speaking about the relevance of HCiD for Australia, Mr Tickner noted that the ARC sends more than 65 aid workers overseas annually on health-related missions to countries such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Haiti.

“Some of the aid workers have been witness to violent and preventable acts and the tragic consequences for those in need of medical assistance,” he said. “The Australian Red Cross is committed to promoting the aims of the HCiD project and to ensuring greater protection for its staff and other health-care personnel working in such situations.”

Mr Tickner added that the Australian Red Cross is working with the Australian Government on developing a pledge on HCiD for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference in November 2011, at which states signatory to the Geneva Conventions and all components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will be in attendance.

Jeremy England, Head of the ICRC's Australia Office, provided the audience with an overview of the HCiD project and the key findings of the ICRC's ‘Health care in danger: making the case’ report. The main finding, he said, was that assaults on health-care personnel, facilities and vehicles in armed conflict and other situations of violence leave millions around the world without care at a time when they need it most.

Sharing with those present his personal experiences of the impact on civilians when access to medical assistance is impeded, Mr England said, “The report also reveals that large numbers of people die, not because they are direct victims of a roadside bomb or a shooting, but because the ambulance does not arrive in time.”

Nuha Markus, a former Iraqi journalist, and Ruth Jebb, an Australian Red Cross nurse and midwife, provided compelling personal perspectives on health care under threat in Iraq and Sudan respectively. Ms Markus told how kidnapping and threats of violence against medical staff in Iraq had made them afraid to go to work and forced some to leave the country. “The HCiD project is vital as the most vulnerable in the Iraqi community continue to suffer and need support,” she said.

Ms Jebb said, “Insecurity has limited vital nutritional feeding programmes for sick children, denying children the safe haven they need.”

Some 70 people attended the launch, including representatives from the Australian Government, the military, academia, legal associations, the medical field, think tanks, the consular community, the media, and non-governmental organizations including other Red Cross representatives. Further events are planned throughout the year, including a national conference in the Australian state of Queensland in November 2011.

For more information about the Health Care in Danger project, visit www.icrc.org/eng/life-death, and for the Australian Red Cross visit www.redcross.org.au.