Violence against patients and health-care workers is one of the most crucial yet overlooked humanitarian issues today. The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement runs a global campaign aiming to improve security and delivery of impartial and efficient health care in armed conflict and other emergencies.
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In conflicts and upheavals worldwide, violence disrupts health-care services when they are needed most. Civilians and fighters die of injuries that they should survive.
In many war-torn countries, ambulances or hospitals are directly targeted, resulting in death or injury to health-care staff and patients. Health workers are often harassed or threatened by fighters, but can also be victims of killing, kidnapping or robbery. The wounded and the sick are regularly reported to be the victims of death or injury, harassment and intimidation.
In countries affected by armed violence, the greatest problem concerning health care is the inability of the wounded or sick to obtain it. Causes include a lack of security, night-time curfews or restrictions imposed by warring parties on the work of aid organizations. Ambulances can be deliberately prevented from reaching wounded people or held up for hours at checkpoints. Security measures can also involve heavy administrative procedures, which can threaten the lives and well-being of the wounded and sick.
Lack of impartiality in health-care provision can be a major issue in conflicts and other emergencies. In some cases, weapon bearers seek to deny treatment to their wounded enemies or put pressure on health-care workers forcing them to act against medical ethics. Medical personnel themselves can act with a lack of impartiality while caring for the wounded and sick from a different ethnic group or political standpoint.
A single violent incident against health-care infrastructure or workers can have immeasurable longer-term repercussions on entire communities with war-related or chronic health-care problems.