Comment

It takes a brave heart to nurse in a war torn country

Health workers are being targeted on unprecedented levels. We need to take action now to stop this says Howard Catton.
Howard Catton

Nurses and health workers are being targeted for attack on unprecedented levels. We need to take action now to stop this

As I write, Syrian peace talks are taking place in Geneva. Like many of you, I have been deeply moved by the heart-wrenching images of attacks on civilian areas, but also angered by the continued targeting of medical facilities.

Despite a United Nations Security Council resolution in May strongly condemning such attacks, there were 43 in July alone. According to a recent World Health Organization report, 256 attacks were directed at medical services and staff in 19 countries last year, killing 434 people, including health workers and patients.

As well as being a clear violation of international law protecting health care facilities, this deters civilians from seeking assistance. It can also result in organisations such as Mdecins Sans Frontires having to pull out, as was

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Nurses and health workers are being targeted for attack on unprecedented levels. We need to take action now to stop this

As I write, Syrian peace talks are taking place in Geneva. Like many of you, I have been deeply moved by the heart-wrenching images of attacks on civilian areas, but also angered by the continued targeting of medical facilities. 

Despite a United Nations Security Council resolution in May strongly condemning such attacks, there were 43 in July alone. According to a recent World Health Organization report, 256 attacks were directed at medical services and staff in 19 countries last year, killing 434 people, including health workers and patients. 

As well as being a clear violation of international law protecting health care facilities, this deters civilians from seeking assistance. It can also result in organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières having to pull out, as was the case after an attack on one of their hospitals in Yemen killed and wounded 30 people.  

In August, International Council of Nurses and the World Medical Association issued a joint press release condemning these atrocities and supporting UN resolution 2268 calling for the cessation of hostilities and respect for ceasefires that are long enough to provide aid. The targeting of nurses and health workers is at unprecedented levels, and nursing voices are increasingly being used to describe these humanitarian tragedies. 

Last month, CNN reported the story of Malaika, a head nurse in Aleppo’s Children’s Hospital who held a baby as he died struggling to breathe because of the dust following a direct hit to the hospital. Three more babies also died. 

Later, when off duty, she was hit by shrapnel. This required an operation to remove it, but Malaika was back at work the next day. Human Rights Watch quoted a nurse in Mozambique describing how she was in the emergency room when shots were fired through the window. Nurses are putting patients before themselves and their families on a daily basis – it takes a brave heart to nurse, not just a big one. 

It is no longer sufficient to condemn these attacks. Action and accountability are required. By the time you read this, I truly hope political progress has been made. 

About the author

Howard Catton

Howard Catton is director, nursing and health policy, International Council of Nurses

 

 

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