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ICRC launches guide on "The responsibilities of health-care personnel working in armed conflicts and other emergencies"

18-01-2013 News Release 13/04

Geneva (ICRC) – The publication, written for all health-care workers, sets out their responsibilities, derived from international humanitarian law, international human rights law and medical ethics, when working in situations of armed violence.

"Health-care workers in war-zones face a variety of challenges; some are practical whilst others are ethical," said Dr Robin Coupland, a medical adviser at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and co-author of the guide. "How do I judge what is appropriate care if suddenly the hospital has no electricity or running water? Are there times when I cannot keep the identity of the patients from authorities? In a crisis, what information or images about hospitals or ambulances can be made available to the media?"

"'The responsibilities of health-care personnel working in armed conflicts and other emergencies' is the gold standard in its field," said Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the British Medical Association. "It is the kind of guide any health worker in a conflict- or violence-affected area should have in his pocket."

To launch the publication, the ICRC is hosting an open online discussion on hard choices and dilemmas health-care workers face in armed conflicts and other emergencies.

The panel will be composed of Dr Coupland, Dr Nathanson, and Dr Doris Schopper, director of the Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action.

An interactive discussion on "Choices and dilemmas – health-care workers on the front line" will be viewable in real time on www.healthcareindanger.org/livestream. Questions can be submitted prior to or during the discussion on facebook.com/icrc or on twitter (@icrc, #HCiDlive).

Practical information for everyone wishing to participate in the discussion:

Date and time: Monday 21 January 2013 at 14.30 GMT (15.30 CET).
URL: www.healthcareindanger.org/livestream

About the authors: Dr Robin Coupland has been with the ICRC since 1989 and has worked as a war surgeon in many conflict-affected regions, including Afghanistan and Somalia. He is the author of "Health care in danger: a sixteen-country study," which concludes that violence preventing the delivery of health care is currently one of the most urgent yet overlooked humanitarian tragedies, affecting millions.

Dr Alexander Breitegger has been a legal adviser at the ICRC since February 2011. He holds a PhD degree from the University of Vienna as well as the European Master's Degree in Human Rights and Democratisation (EMA). Dr Breitegger is the author of "Cluster munitions and international law: disarmament with a human face," recently published by Routledge. His other publications focus on international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law.

For further information, please contact:
Bijan Farnoudi, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 21 80 or +41 79 536 92 59