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National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies step up effort to make health-care delivery more secure

05-12-2012 News Release 12/239

Oslo/Geneva (ICRC) – Improving staff training, preventing misuse of the red cross and red crescent emblems, coordinating activities with other organizations and raising awareness among the authorities and armed groups are some of the actions that can make health-care delivery amid armed violence safer.

These and other practical measures were proposed at a workshop that ended in Oslo today. Among those participating were representatives of 13 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, experts from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and several professionals from health ministries and medical NGOs.

"In countries affected by armed violence, such as Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Somalia, Red Cross and Red Crescent staff are often among the most important health-care providers," said Sven Mollekleiv, the president of the Norwegian Red Cross, which co-organized the workshop alongside the ICRC. "With the aim of developing practical measures, for this workshop we tried to bring together practitioners with direct experience of violence being perpetrated against people providing or receiving health care. Some were even injured or kidnapped while on duty."

One of the participants, Abdulkadir Abdi-Afi of the Somali Red Crescent Society, was wounded by shrapnel several years ago while preparing the delivery of medicines to the hospital for war-wounded patients in Mogadishu, managed by the National Society. "One way of enhancing our security in our daily work is to speak in the same way to all conflict parties," he said. "Because our health-care services have been provided on a completely impartial basis for many years, they now command almost as much respect in Somalia as the mosques. Even so, health-care delivery is still one of the biggest humanitarian challenges in the country, simply because the lack of security and the curfews prevent thousands of people from obtaining these services."

According to the ICRC, every fifth violent incident against health-care systems reported in the first half of this year targeted or otherwise affected Red Cross or Red Crescent staff, services or patients.

"These figures are based on the reported incidents only. They could represent the tip of the iceberg," said Magne Barth, an adviser for the ICRC-led "Health Care in Danger" project, of which the Oslo workshop is a part. "The Red Cross and Red Crescent are not merely experiencing the problem at first hand, however, since they are also part of the solution. But the issue of safe access to health care has to be taken up by a whole range of people, including public health-workers and NGO staff."

The next "Health Care in Danger" event will take place on 17 December in Cairo, where medical practitioners will discuss practical measures that could be taken to safeguard emergency health care. That event will be followed at the beginning of January by a Red Cross Red Crescent workshop in Tehran which will be attended by participants from more than 15 countries.

For further information, please contact:
Anastasia Isyuk, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 30 23 or +41 79 251 93 02
Astrid Arnslett, Norwegian Red Cross, tel: +47 93286460