Representatives of health ministries, medical associations, academia, military and aid organizations from nine countries have committed to work on ensuring that health care is safe from disruption and violence in the Asia-Pacific region, affirming there is an urgent need to strengthen the preparedness of health-care systems in this regard.
The first regional meeting, held in Makati City from June 13 to 15, gathered 65 participants who reaffirmed their collective responsibility in a declaration to enhance the protection of health-care services from various forms of violence. While the process needs to be led by States, there are many opportunities for other stakeholders to contribute to the effort.
“Every day, medical personnel, nurses and health responders are confronted with situations of violence and other actions that disrupt provision of health care to those who need it the most,” said Maciej Polkowski, head of the Health Care in Danger (HCiD) initiative at International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “This can range from deliberate attacks in cases of conflict, to violent verbal abuse from a patient. These regional meetings concentrate on the ground realities in Asia-Pacific and are aimed at moving towards improved protection of health care in a very concrete, defined and hopefully, inspiring manner.”
The HCiD initiative was launched globally in 2011 by the ICRC and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to improve the protection of health care. It is a multifaceted initiative that encompasses partnerships, advocacy and an operational approach. The recent Asia-Pacific meeting was organized by the ICRC in partnership with the Philippine Red Cross. It brought together participants from Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.
In the meeting, the participants discussed and shared concrete experiences in the task of making health-care services accessible, safe and free from violence. By adopting the “Manila Declaration on the Protection of Health Care,” they agreed that:
Weapon bearers must strengthen their respect for safe and secure delivery of health care through practical measures such as training manuals and standard operating procedures;
Authorities must undertake appropriate measures to train and educate civil servants, health-care workers and the public on domestic laws protecting health care;
There is a need to strengthen the resilience and preparedness of health-care systems to face attacks, with focus on the physical security of facilities, training of staff to prevent and manage violence and to strengthen coordination mechanisms.
For the meeting’s host country – the Philippines – protection of health care is highly relevant in the southern island of Mindanao due to decades of internal armed conflicts that presented various challenges for health professionals.
“We have to be concerned with the safety and protection of health-care workers deployed in areas affected by conflict as these are the places we also cater to,” said Dr Rolanisah Dipatuan-Dimaporo, chief of staff in the ministry of health of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). “But we also realized during the meeting that health staff in contexts other than conflict are exposed to different risks.”
Moving forward, participants of the Asia-Pacific meeting agreed that by supporting the declaration, they commit to consolidate the good intentions and ideas into action by discussing and incorporating HCiD initiatives in their respective agencies’ strategic planning.
The ICRC is a neutral, impartial and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. It has an international mandate to promote knowledge for and compliance with international humanitarian law.