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The danger of being a healthcare worker in a combat zone

flickr-Centralafrikanska republiken 2

Close your eyes and imagine being a doctor performing surgery.

(Personally, my go to is Dr. Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy.)


Now imagine your patient is a toddler who had just had his legs blown off by a mortar strike.

Now imagine you’re performing this complex surgery while several gunmen call for your head.

Scary, right?

This is a daily reality faced by healthcare workers in combat zones.

In the wake of the airstrike on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan that claimed the lives of 30 volunteers and patients the world finds its attention turned to alarming epidemic:

Healthcare workers being purposely targeted in combat zones.

What’s to gain by killing a healthcare worker?

Doctors, by oath, offer non-discriminatory care to anyone who needs it and, as a result, make enemies of local militaries.

If you’re a combat doctor who saves the lives of the enemies of powerful groups, you may be perceived as the enemy and may be killed.

Doctors creating healthier, livelier communities can threaten the power of corrupt leaders and as a result find themselves in danger.  

An International Red Cross report from 2012-2013 has documented over 1,000 instances of assault, abduction and threats made against health care workers.

  • 168 killed 
  • 267 injured 
  • 564 kidnapped or arrested
  • 212 threatened 

Ambulances carrying patients or vital vaccines may find themselves targets of sniper fire or raids from enemy forces.

Often doctors have to choose whether to brand the hospitals where they are with military insignia to avoid attacks. 

Hospitals in Syria have had to establish underground medical facilities that run on generators and have no clean water to avoid the all-encompassing danger.

In turn, these unsafe and unsanitary conditions often cost more lives than they save. 

Health care workers should never come under attack. They are neutral parties who only want to save lives, protect the injured and diseased, the vulnerable and abused.

The violence they face often does nothing more than deprive patients from life-saving care. 

Deliberately targeting health care workers who are trying to save lives is a war crime. Plain and simple.

Organizations such as the International Committee for the Red Cross and Physicians for Human Rights have fought for years to bring attention to this ongoing catastrophe. 

However, with the recent tragedy in Kunduz perhaps the international spotlight can now be directed towards these brave men and women who give the gift of health, while risking their own.

An attack on medical personnel is an attack on Global Goal 3: Good Health. Take Action NOW and tell world leaders to support these goals.