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Red Cross and EU conduct public campaign on safer access to health care

04-12-2013 News Release 13/216

Geneva (ICRC) / Brussels (EU) – The European Union, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and seven national Red Cross societies are carrying out an outdoor campaign between 1 and 22 December to mobilize public opinion on the need to respect health-care providers and facilities in armed-conflict situations. A series of posters illustrating the idea that it is possible to give the wounded and the sick timely access to health care, even in the midst of violence, is on display in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, London, Madrid, Paris and Warsaw.

The citizens of these capitals are discovering posters in the street, at bus stops and inside metro stations that feature, for example, a boy who survived a life-threatening injury because the ambulance taking him to hospital was sent to the front of the queue at a checkpoint, or a woman who gave birth to a healthy baby in a military hospital because the doctors there provided care without discrimination.

"The lives of thousands of people around the world could be saved if the authorities, the military and police, and others took practical steps to make access to health care more secure in situations of armed violence," said Peter Maurer, president of the ICRC. "When I was visiting Mirwais Hospital in southern Afghanistan, I saw anxious parents bringing in two severely wounded children who had stepped on a landmine. Fortunately, the doctors were able to operate immediately, and both children survived their wounds. Every month, more than a thousand operations are performed in the hospital, which remains up and running despite the fighting and the general lack of security."

Measures that should be taken include giving ambulances and other medical vehicles priority at checkpoints and providing first-aid workers unhindered access to those in need of help, along with proper training and equipment.

"On my missions to the Central African Republic I witnessed a rapidly deteriorating situation in the country. In Kaga Bandoro I visited a hospital which had been stripped of everything – even its mattresses were looted. No health facilities are operating outside the capital Bangui, with the exception of those provided by humanitarian organizations," said Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response. "Situations where armed violence is taking place are not an excuse for the violation of humanitarian principles and a descent into chaos. Health-care workers, facilities and transport must be respected and protected, especially in situations of armed violence For everyone involved in the fighting, this means ensuring that medical personnel are not targeted by militia and that hospitals, mobile clinics and ambulances are not damaged or misused."

The ICRC gathered data on 1,405 incidents in 23 countries between January 2012 and July 2013 where the provision of first aid was obstructed. Local health-care agencies and providers, including national Red Cross and Red Crescent society first-aid workers, were the first to be affected and made up 91 per cent of the recorded cases.

The campaign in European cities aims to raise awareness of the urgency of the issue and to help ensure that the neutral status of health-care facilities, transports and personnel is respected.

More information about the "Health Care in Danger" campaign, including the "Violent Incidents Affecting Health Care" study, and video and photo materials, can be found on the  Health Care in Danger website and the European Commission website.

For further information, please contact:
David-Pierre Marquet, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 02 or +41 79 536 92 48
David Sharrock, ECHO spokesperson, European Commission, tel: +32 2 296 89 09