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Health organisations urge UK Government to endorse UN Political Declaration protecting patients, medics and health facilities in war zones

1 March 2021

UK Health organisations have written a letter to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Dominic Raab, urging the Foreign Secretary and the UK Government to ensure healthcare facilities, nursing and health workers, and their patients are protected in conflict torn countries.

Members from UK health organisations engage in life-saving work on the frontlines in some of the most dangerous places on Earth. They deliver essential humanitarian aid to children and civilians injured by attacks from explosive weapons in war torn and conflict zones.

In Syria and Yemen, health facilities have been targeted and hospitals have been damaged, destroyed or forced to close, and medical personnel have been killed, injured, or forced to flee these zones – preventing them from providing life-saving humanitarian care to those who need it most.

The UN Secretary-General has now called for member states to endorse an international Political Declaration on explosive weapons. UK healthcare organisations are urging the government to endorse it. The letter to the Foreign Secretary follows a letter sent to his predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, in 2019 asking the UK government to support the Colombo Declaration.

President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson said:

“Access to healthcare should be human right. Attacks on health facilities and healthcare workers must be condemned and must cease. They are an absolute redline and we ask the UK Government to call for their immediate cessation.

“Medics must be able to deliver essential humanitarian aid without fear of injury or attack. Emergency Medicine healthcare professionals are equipped with the skills to provide quick and effective care to the seriously injured including to those harmed or maimed by explosive weapons. They must be better protected and endorsing this declaration will be the first step towards that.”

A report by Action on Armed Violence found that 90% of people killed or maimed by explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians, including serious harm to children. Save the Children’s ‘Stop the War on Children’ report stated that the number of children killed or maimed in conflict over the past decade has reached almost 100,000 and that the use of explosive weapons has been a significant contributor to this horrific number.

Explosive weapons cause serious damage to health infrastructure, meaning hospitals, medical areas or temporary health centres are destroyed or forced to close. Healthcare remains under threat and is not consistently available in countries that need it most.

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

“Conflict-affected countries across the world are facing an unprecedented crisis. Not only are the healthcare professionals there working in incredibly difficult circumstances and facing death at every turn, but they have been continuing to provide support and medical care to people against the treacherous backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In Yemen, the healthcare system has been decimated by years of conflict – leaving thousands of people without medical assistance. While in Myanmar, a challenging political environment has seen many healthcare workers making the difficult decision to strike or work for a regime they disagree with. Not only are these countries facing outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, they’ve also been grappling with containing the COVID-19 outbreak. And still life continues, babies still need to be born and women and girls still need to manage their sexual and reproductive health.

“That’s why it’s vital healthcare professionals are given the equipment and support they need to provide assistance to those who need it the most.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:

“Healthcare workers courageously providing care to people in conflict zones must be able to do so without fear for their own safety and lives, and access to healthcare must be a human right, regardless of geography or political affiliation.

“Targeted attacks on healthcare facilities must therefore be condemned in the strongest possible terms by all nations, and we urge the UK Government to show its support for our colleagues internationally by demanding the end to such heinous acts.”


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