The Syrian conflict is bringing about the use of weapons in health healthcare

Much less focus has been paid attention to Syrian government’s repression of health care facilities within the territory of rebels. This cruel method, which is the crime of human rights, is making it difficult for humanitarian organizations to offer treatment for wounded soldiers and civilians in certain cases.

The Syrian American Medical Society says that 168 attacks against medical facilities took place during the second quarter of 2016. The attacks injured at least 80 medical staff, and killed at least 26. The total number of casualties is estimated to be a death toll of more than 800 doctors since the outbreak of the conflict.

Working in the field of war

A recent article in The Lancet, a Medical journal The Lancet suggests that international authorities should be proactive to prevent any further attacks by military on human rights organizations. Particularly it is necessary to gather and distribute accurate information on the attacks, and to increase support for overloaded health care personnel.

Failure to take this step could not just contribute to the future targeted attack of neutral organizations for example Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and others, but also to the continuing use of tactics, such as chemical warfare.

The 1949 Geneva Convention contains a string of guidelines that all parties in international conflict have to “respect without prejudice”. Convention IV stresses the importance of respecting and aid in the provision of medical care to civilians. Furthermore, the Convention I extends the principle to combatants of enemy.

The underlying philosophical basis for the restrictions is that war’s theater is limited to designated “conflict spaces”. This should never be allowed to invade the realm of humanitarian health care, including the provision of health care services.

At at least 168 attacks against medical facilities are believed to be carried out in Syria during the second half of 2016. Badi Khlif/Reuters

The sad truth is that the Articles of the Geneva Convention have been systematically broken in the time since the adoption. However, the focus on the provision of health care in Syria is an especially egregious infraction of the rules governing the provision of medical care for humanitarian reasons.

In particular, it’s one of the examples that experts call”the “weaponisation of health care,” which involves practices like destroying healthcare facilities, targeting health professionals, eliminating medical neutrality, and enforcing medical professionals.

The government’s bombings have hit the most prominent international organization, MSF. The most famous attack took place in April when Syrian jets blew up the MSF-funded Al Quds medical center and the surrounding area in the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo. The attack claimed the lives of at least 55 people, which included patients as well as at least six medical personnel.

What might not have been obvious to the international public is that this attack was preceded by a period of five years of targeting healthcare facilities. In addition to the countless medical personnel who were killed in the conflict, most hospitals in cities like Aleppo were closed.

“The ‘humanitarian system’ is failing in Syria,” MSF’s latest report on the war declares. “Many hospitals are suffering from severe supply issues and are experiencing ever-shrinking numbers of health workers since doctors have fled or were killed. Since the start of the conflict, medical staff and medical facilities were targeted.”

An example for conflicts to come.

The Lancet report outlines the need for the global community to take action on a variety of policy imperatives. It warns that the failure to intervene could affect “health workers not only in Syria, but also in ongoing and future armed conflicts elsewhere.”

The philosophical basis for the Geneva Convention is that the Geneva Convention is the notion that war’s theatre is limited to a defined set of “conflict areas.” Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

Some of the recommendations for policy in the report The most important advice in the information are:

Gather and disseminate accurate and thoroughly documented information about the nature and severity of routine attacks, including the identity of the perpetrators.

“investigate war crimes, create prosecutable cases, and establish tribunals for prosecution.”

Academic and non-academic institutions are required to carry out “essential research to build the evidence base for action on issues affecting health workers in conflict.”

Quick action on these suggestions is essential not just to protect healthcare personnel but also to prevent future chemical attacks, such as the bombing in Khan Shaykhun.

There is a connection with biological warfare, as do attacks on health facilities. On the surface, both of them are serious human rights violations. At a deeper level, both involve expanding the war zone to civilians and exploiting the weaknesses in the human body.

The inability to prevent attacks on health services could transmit mixed messages regarding the ethics of “weaponising” the human body.

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