Securing Health Care in War Zones

| January 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

Healthcare is fundamental at all times, but especially during times of war.  It is necessary for combating the spread of infectious diseases, for treating war-time injuries, and for helping the elderly, pregnant, and youth.  An intermission of sickness does not exist during times of war; in fact, health issues are often amplified as people are living in much closer quarters and are not tending to their health needs with as much vigilance.  Thus arises the question of how to increase access to healthcare in war-stricken areas.   War-conflicted countries demand heightened attention to healthcare systems as conflict often causes a lack of healthcare workers, inventory stock-outs, and delays in treatments and vaccinations leading to spreading of infectious diseases.

Presence and access to healthcare in war-stricken areas has and continues to be a serious problem.  As Michiel Hoffman, an operational advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), says, “it’s hard to provide healthcare when there is a general disregard for everyone’s lives.”[1]  Without attention to basic healthcare, hundreds of thousands of people will be left without medication, vaccinations, or any type of care for that regard.  In South Sudan, for example, where violence has been going on for decades, mostly over cattle, the MSF may be forced to remove health workers that provide for 160,000 individuals due to safety

South Sudan, ridden with conflict for years, needs healthcare more than ever.  Malaria and rainy seasons are approaching, both demanding vaccinations and other pre-cautionary measures.  However, many of the primary healthcare providers, like the MSF, feel threatened by conflict and cannot justify risking their workers’ lives.  Hospitals, like the one in Pibor run by the MSF, are “ransacked and looted in the violence,” forcing them to temporarily close down. [3] Delays in treatments and vaccinations ensue due to a decreased amount of hospitals.  The threat caused by conflict disturbs more than just the healthcare workers; the citizens are often afraid to leave their homes to receive essential care.  Many citizens need to flee their homes to avoid conflict, and the displaced often do not know where or how to get healthcare from their new, temporary homes.concerns.[2]

In solving this problem, the role of education cannot be emphasized enough.  Because of the delay in healthcare, citizens often turn to self-treatment.  Therefore, citizens and local leaders must be educated on dealing with common illnesses.  For example, they should be able to self-administer vaccinations and should be given self-delivery kits, bandages for cleanup and infection prevention, and other preventative mechanisms.  The MSF or other medical charities must empower local community leaders by training them to deal with illnesses if things worsen to allow for a somewhat sustainable and safe option for care during war.  The education program should be run not just during wartimes, but rather continuously through times of peace by organizations like the MSF.  Since war is unpredictable and often intertwined with political turmoil, starting up an education campaign as war breaks out will more than likely be unsuccessful.  Thus, medical charities must train and supply locals with all they may need in an emergency situation from the moment the charity enters a country to set up clinics and hospitals.  The medical charities must monitor local leaders after training for effectiveness and consistency in the way treatment is administered to ensure credibility and trust from other locals in these new medical liaisons.

As Marco Baldan, the chief war surgeon at the International Committee of the Red Cross, said, “One of the first victims of war is the healthcare system itself.”[4] Since conflict is seemingly inevitable in any area, preventative measures must be taken to protect the 160,000 people of South Sudan and countless others in different countries from living without healthcare.  Medical charities must strive from before war even breaks out to setup a safety net for healthcare through the education of locals.  Healthcare is fundamental to the well being of a nation, and conflict is not a justification for its absence.



[1] Swanson, David. “HEALTH: Healthcare in the Crossfire.” IRINnews. N.p., 23 May 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95504/HEALTH-Healthcare-in-the-crossfire>.

[2] United Nations. “South Sudan: MSF May Suspend Operations in South Sudan’s Pibor Over Escalating Violence.” AllAfrica. IRIN, 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://allafrica.com/stories/201210011162.html>.

[3] United Nations. “South Sudan: MSF May Suspend Operations in South Sudan’s Pibor Over Escalating Violence.” AllAfrica. IRIN, 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://allafrica.com/stories/201210011162.html>.

[4] Swanson, David. “HEALTH: Healthcare in the Crossfire.” IRINnews. N.p., 23 May 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <http://www.irinnews.org/Report/95504/HEALTH-Healthcare-in-the-crossfire>.


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