Health Care in Danger: We must learn from each other

Editorial - Health Care in Danger Newsletter, December 2014

And the lessons are to be found everywhere, not only in places ravaged by conflict, like Gaza and Syria. The number and the seriousness of attacks against health-care workers and facilities and medical vehicles recorded in 2014 are proof that safe provision of health care is still a pressing issue in many contexts.


Dr Nehal Hefny
Programs and Projects Coordinator
Egyptian Red Crescent Society

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, together with various partners, undertook the Health Care in Danger (HCiD) project because it understood the urgency of protecting the delivery of health-care services during armed conflicts and other emergencies. The project got under way in 2011, and the global advocacy, networking, and consultations that ensued have expanded beyond the Movement. This is as it should be, HCiD having emphasized from the outset that an issue of such common concern needs not only universal attention, but also concrete actions by all those involved:  health-care providers, national legislators, policy-makers, armed actors, the international humanitarian community and civil society.

All of us – medical professionals, government officials, representatives of international organizations, members of civil society – have a role in building a protective environment for health-care systems, nationally and internationally. The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other panellists made this point during the high-level debate that took place on the sidelines of the 69th General Assembly of the United Nations.

As neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian actors, we must make ourselves heard by the parties concerned, whether they are State or non-State groups. Data on violent incidents since 2011, collected by the ICRC within the framework of the HCiD project, show that 90% of all the victims of  violence against health-care workers are local, not international, staff. The consequences for victims and entire communities may be extremely serious: because of such violence, health care may no longer be available where it is needed most, and entire health systems may be severely undermined.

For National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the stakes are high. We must remember that the Movement contains the cumulative experience of 189 National Societies working in different contexts. It is therefore in a unique position to enrich the HCiD project with a variety of good practices derived from the field experience of thousands of staff and volunteers. As ambassadors for HCiD in their own countries, National Societies can provide evidence-based recommendations, adopt practical measures based on their experiences and propose contextualized responses that contribute to the safety of health-care delivery. The example of Nepal in this newsletter is one of many that show how parties concerned can work together to respond to HCiD challenges and develop activities adapted to the context.

Finally, sharing our experiences and learning from each other's good practices is of crucial importance if we want to protect and improve the delivery of health-care services during emergencies. I invite you to read the interview with Abdoul Aziz Ould Mohamed. See what he did to save a hospital from being targeted.

Dr Nehal Hefny
Programs and
Projects Coordinator
Egyptian Red Crescent Society