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

The role of health professionals in conflict

The recent campaign undertaken by the International Committee of the
Red Cross to improve security and delivery of health care during times of
conflict is to be commended.
This is particularly timely given last week Physicians for Human Rights(
PHR) released accounts of "serious violations of medical neutrality in
Syria" [1], with 134 Syrian doctors either detained or missing.
Closer to home, the recent UK riots had incidents of ambulances being
targetted, reminding us that violence is omnipresent.

However, I hold a differing opinion to that of author Nathanson when
she articulates that measures to safeguard heathcare facilities "do not
lie within the health community but principally in the domain of law,
politics, humanitarian dialogue". I believe this is within the remit of
health professionals, as firstly doctors are highly regarded in terms of
neutrality and impartiality and secondly, the role of health professionals
should, as suggested by Arya and Barbara [2], extend to preventing
violence and conflict in the first instance.


1. Physicians for human rights 2011 (PHR)
Available at:

2. Arya, N and JS Barbara 2008. Peace through health: How health
professionals can work for a less violent world.

Competing interests: No competing interests

15 August 2011
Sima Barmania
PhD Candidate
University of Glasgow