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What Australian doctors can do

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The magnitude of the task to change attitudes and achieve universal recognition of the neutrality of health workers and respect for the work they do requires a concerted global effort beyond the scope of any one organisation, International Committee of the Red Cross official Dr Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin has warned.

The ICRC’s Health Care in Danger project was originally conceived of as a four-year undertaking when it was launched in 2011, but Dr Eshaya-Chauvin the deadline was always going to be a waypoint, rather than an end point.

“We know that the project cannot end in 2015,” he said, but “it’s not only the responsibility of the ICRC for the project to survive”.

 “People are expecting the ICRC will continue to be the focal point of this issue for the future, and we will, but we hope the issue will become one that is also addressed by countries themselves.”

Dr Eshaya-Chauvin said the ICRC was already working closely with transnational groups like the World Medical Association and the International Federation of Medical Students, but there were also plenty that doctors in countries like Australia could do to advance work on the issue.

The ICRC and the WMA formalised their partnership in June 2013 when they struck a Memorandum of Understanding under which the WMA committed to assist the promotion and development of the HCiD project, while the ICRC pledged to work with both the WMA and national medical associations – including the AMA – in its work on the project.

Following this agreement, the AMA last year formally adopted the WMA’s Regulations in Times of Armed Conflict and Other Situations of Violence, outlining the duties of doctors working in strife-torn areas as well as the support they and other health workers should be accorded to fulfil their ethical duties to care for the sick and wounded.

Dr Eshaya-Chauvin said Australian doctors and nurses could “link up” with the Australian Defence Force to share knowledge and experience, and to support the work undertaken by the Australian Government as one of five international “champions” for the project.

Last year the Government sponsored a resolution at the G20 that called for a pact to protect the safety of doctors and other health workers in Syria, and last December Australia hosted an international workshop on how military operations can affect the safety of health workers and access to medical care.

Dr Eshaya-Chauvin said the AMA had a role to play in helping prepare doctors to work in strife-torn situations by providing information on rights and responsibilities, ethical considerations, and an understanding of the legal frameworks in which they may operate.

For more details on the Health Care in Danger project, visit: https://www.icrc.org/eng/what-we-do/safeguarding-health-care/solution/2013-04-26-hcid-health-care-in-danger-project.htm

Adrian Rollins