Australia: Ways forward to protect health care

How can the international community better protect health care providers and patients in the midst of war and emergencies? This was the topic discussed at a special event, Health Care in Danger: the way forward, co-hosted by the ICRC and Australian Red Cross in Canberra on September 24.

Various forms of violence – whether direct attacks on patients or medical staff, looting of hospitals, or threats against doctors – continue to disrupt the delivery of health care in many contexts around the world. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s four-year Health Care in Danger project, led by the ICRC, is working to address the issue.

Up to 70 people gathered at Australian National University for the event, which included official presentations and a thought-provoking panel discussion of the many practical measures that have been developed to tackle the problem. The full panel recording is available here:


The issue and solutions

Introducing the issue, ICRC Australia head of mission Leonard Blazeby highlighted the fact that no one actor alone can be responsible for improving protection of health care. Multiple actors must be mobilised, including aid agencies, militaries, governments, medical staff, national red cross and red crescent societies, police, lawyers and academics.

Yvette Zegenhagen, from Australian Red Cross, discussed how national societies, many of whom are operating in war zones, are essential to finding solutions to health care insecurity. As a recruiter of local delegates who deploy to armed conflicts and emergencies, societies such as Australian Red Cross are also committed to addressing the problem.

Greg French, Assistant Secretary of the International Legal Branch, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, outlined the Australian Government’s ongoing commitment to addressing violence against medical care. As a key partner of the Health Care in Danger project,  the Australian Government last year co-hosted with the ICRC an international workshop aimed at identifying practical measures that can mitigate the impact of military operations on health care. The workshop was part of a broad consultation between ICRC and various militaries around the world, which resulted in a new publication, “Promoting military operational practice that ensures safe access to and delivery of health care, launched at the Canberra event.

Following official presentations, the panel commenced with guest speakers Mr Paul McPhun, executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières Australia, Dr Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, medical adviser to the Health Care in Danger project, and Dr Sarah Miller, a Canberra-based clinical and forensic psychologist with experience as a delegate for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

A key topic discussed was the importance of neutrality and impartiality in the provision of health care in situations of conflict and violence. The panellists agreed that demonstrating these principles was crucial for medical providers attempting to gain, and maintain, access to communities in conflict zones, while ensuring protection for their health care personnel.

Speaker interviews

ICRC Australia head of mission Leonard Blazeby discusses ICRC's new military practices report, launched at the event


Dr Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, medical adviser to the Health Care in Danger project, talks about ways forward to better protect health care


Paul McPhun, MSF Australia, discusess the Medical Care under Fire campaign