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Violent incidents against health-care in at least 22 countries in 2012

15-05-2013 News Release

Geneva (ICRC) – A new study by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), entitled "Violent Incidents Affecting Health Care," reveals that at least 921 violent incidents against health-care personnel, infrastructure and wounded or sick people took place in 2012.

The study conducted in 22 unnamed countries affected by armed violence underlines a worrying trend: assaults on health-care personnel, facilities and vehicles in conflicts and other emergencies leave millions around the world without care just when they need it most.

“These 921 incidents include threats, killings, and kidnappings. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg," said Pierre Gentile, head of the ICRC's "Health Care in Danger" project. "Most incidents go unrecorded and so do the repercussions they have on the people who depend on the local clinic, midwife or ambulance."

The ICRC's report identifies two worrying new trends. Firstly, many first-aiders treating blast victims are wounded by "follow-up attacks" triggered remotely. Secondly, violent incidents disrupt prevention activities such as routine vaccination sessions. This means setbacks for eradicating diseases such as measles and polio.

Local health-care agencies and providers are the first to be affected and make up 91 per cent of the recorded cases, the study shows. The biggest share of responsibility for the violence is carried by both State and non-State entities. Acts and threats of violence against health staff were also found to be committed by patients' own families or communities, unhappy about the priority given to some patients over others or because of the outcome of the treatment. This group has emerged as a significant perpetrator of violence against health staff in certain countries.

"When violence is used against health-care staff, infrastructure or the wounded or sick, the ultimate losers are ordinary people requiring medical assistance," said Mr Gentile.

In parts of South America, there are entire communities living without health service because health personnel have left the area as a result of pressure and intimidation. In certain regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, many children succumb to diseases that would under normal circumstances be easily preventable had armed conflict not cut thousands off from health services. In parts of northern Africa and the Middle East, entire hospitals have been destroyed and staff and patients killed in acts of violence.

"Violence against health-care workers and facilities must end. The impartial delivery of health care, which enables wounded and sick patients to obtain treatment, must be respected. This issue affects millions worldwide," said Mr Gentile.

Deliberate assaults on health-care personnel, facilities and transports, and on the wounded and the sick, violate international law. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols set out the right of the wounded and the sick – combatants, other weapon bearers and civilians alike – to be respected and protected during armed conflict and to receive timely medical treatment. In situations other than armed conflict, the same protection is provided by international human rights law.

The new ICRC study is a follow-up to "Health care in danger: a 16-country study," which revealed that violence against health-care staff and infrastructure is currently one of the largest yet least known humanitarian problems occurring in situations of armed violence.

For further information, please contact:
Ewan Watson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 33 45 or +41 79 244 64 70