Whether they are responding to a heart attack or combating the spread of Ebola, we know that first responders and medical professionals perform dangerous work, often under tough circumstances. In May, the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition — a group of nongovernmental organizations and university researchers created in 2012 to raise awareness and strengthen documentation of attacks on health — put out its latest report. Some of the most critical findings are cited here by Dr. Joseph Amon, director of the Office of Global Health at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health, and Dr. Jennifer Taylor, director of Dornsife’s Center for Firefighter Injury and Research.
The numbers are staggering: 973 attacks in 23 countries against vaccination workers, paramedics, nurses, doctors, midwives, patients, community volunteers, health facility drivers, and guards. As many as 167 workers died and 710 were injured. Bombings of hospitals and clinics in 15 countries, more than 120 aerial attacks affecting health facilities in Syria, and violence and threats forcing 140 health clinics in Afghanistan to close, all limited the availability of critical medical care. Vaccine outreach workers were attacked in the previous year in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan. Armed men entered a health facility in the DRC, looted and beat patients, and attacked and raped a nurse. Each attack impedes delivery of health care far beyond the individual incident, disrupting access to care temporarily or permanently.
But health workers and first responders are not only at risk in the middle of armed conflict. Fire and rescue workers in the United States face injury and assault as well.Friday Letter Submission, Publish on June 14