Intended for healthcare professionals


Delivering healthcare in situations of conflict or violence

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 10 August 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4671
  1. Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities
  1. 1BMA, BMA House, London WC1H 9JO, UK
  1. vnathanson{at}

The International Committee of the Red Cross sets out how to do it

This week the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) launches a global campaign—“It’s a matter of life and death”—which aims to improve security and delivery of effective and impartial healthcare in situations of armed conflict and other contexts of widespread violence.1 This is timely. Events in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and elsewhere make it clear that when people take up arms for whatever reason, violence perpetrated against healthcare facilities and personnel is all too common.

In such contexts, healthcare is often suspended, withdrawn, or impossible. The wounded and sick are denied effective healthcare when hospitals are rendered non-functional by explosive force or forcibly entered by fighters; when ambulances are hijacked; and when healthcare personnel are killed, injured, threatened, kidnapped, or arrested for treating insurgents.

Ultimately, the ICRC campaign is about something intuitive to all health professionals who have worked in a context of conflict: that a secure environment is a prerequisite for the delivery of healthcare.2 It is surprising that currently no mechanism exists for reporting violent events …

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