Attacking health-care structures and personnel, and ambulances – as well as deliberately obstructing the efforts of the wounded to find help – are common features of conflicts throughout the world. In Sri Lanka and Somalia, hospitals have been shelled; in Libya and Lebanon, ambulances have been shot at; in Bahrain, medical personnel who treated protesters are on trial; and in Afghanistan, the wounded languish for hours in vehicles held up in checkpoint queues. From Colombia to Gaza, and from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Nepal, there is a lack of respect for the neutrality of health-care facilities and personnel, and medical vehicles, among both those attacking them and those who misuse them for military gain.
A single act of violence that damages a hospital or kills health-care workers has a knock-on effect, depriving many patients of treatment they would otherwise have received from the facility or workers in question. The effect on the wounded and sick of just one violent incident directed against medical personnel or facilities may be felt by hundreds or even thousands of people.
Owing to the effects of chronic and acute threats, compounded by the persistent problem of inadequate medical services, lack of access to health care is probably one of the biggest humanitarian issues today in terms of the numbers of people affected.
What the ICRC is doing
Over the next four years, the ICRC will mobilize support from Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the health-care community, governments, military forces and armed groups around the world. By creating a strong community of concern, it seeks to safeguard the delivery of effective and impartial health care in armed conflict and other situations of violence.