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Halt assaults on medical facilities and personnel, urges ICRC

Thursday August 11, 2011 03:16:58 PM, Agencies

Geneva: Hospitals, health care workers and ambulances are increasingly targeted in conflicts from Libya to Somalia, depriving millions of sick and wounded of treatment, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.


The independent aid agency, which delivers vital supplies and collects the wounded and dead from battlefields, called for a halt to deadly assaults on medical facilities and personnel.


“Hospitals in Sri Lanka and Somalia have been shelled, ambulances in Libya shot at, paramedics in Colombia killed and wounded people in Afghanistan forced to languish for hours in vehicles held up at checkpoints,” Yves Daccord, ICRC director-general is quoted by Reuters news agency.


The ICRC has documented security incidents in 16 countries that disrupted delivery of health care, many of them deliberate attacks violating international humanitarian law, according to its report “Health Care in Danger: Making the Case”.


“The most shocking finding is that people die in large numbers not because they are direct victims of a roadside bomb or a shooting,” said Dr. Robin Coupland, who led the research.


“They die because the ambulance does not get there in time, because health personnel are prevented from doing their work, because hospitals are themselves targets of attacks or simply because the environment is too dangerous for effective health care to be delivered,” Reuters quoted the British war surgeon.


The violence, often accompanied by looting, means doctors and nurses leave their jobs, hospitals run out of drugs or fuel to run generators and vaccination campaigns grind to a halt.


“In conflicts all over the world, combatants overlook their responsibility to care for civilians caught in the crossfire. Invariably, it is relatives and neighbors who bring civilian casualties to hospital,” it said.


Hospitals have been used to store weapons or launch attacks, contravening the principle that they should be neutral and provide care to all patients, the report said.


Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Somalia have suffered some of the worst attacks against medical centers and staff, it said.


The Arab Spring has brought fresh abuses, according to the ICRC, whose officials run mobile clinics, perform war surgery and negotiate safe passage for ambulances through checkpoints.


“In recent unrest in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen, protesters have been too afraid to use medical facilities for fear their wounds will identify them and provoke harsh reprisals,” it said.




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