The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement called the international community to collective action, so that people affected by conflict receive universal access to health care. The declaration was delivered by ICRC’s Head of Health Esperanza Martinez, at the World Humanitarian Summit’s Special Session on Global Health.

“How can we talk about delivering universal health coverage if access of populations to the very services required to ensure their survival is being denied by belligerent State and non-State actors?”

This question was addressed by Esperanza Martinez, Head of ICRC’s Health Unit, to State representatives, policy-makers and health experts gathered at the World Humanitarian Summit’s Special Session on Global Health, held on May 23 in Istanbul. The Session had proposed to “present a new Global Accord on Healthcare for Crisis-affected People”.

“Our call today is for a translation of the outcomes of our discussions into collective action, to ensure that populations in fragile settings have universal access to healthcare,” Martinez stated on behalf of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Her declaration was amplified by that of Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, who reminded the assembly that despite contemporary advances in global health, this progress has not reached the most isolated and vulnerable. “We [the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement] are there where there is no doctor… we are there where the last mile you walk to the water point is paved by danger,” As Sy said. Walking the last mile might be dangerous and costly, but it is an endeavor to be undertaken collectively to ensure that health coverage becomes truly global.

This gathering of State representatives, policy-makers and health experts occurred amidst an alarming upsurge of attacks against health care personnel, patients and facilities throughout conflicts worldwide, despite clear legal rules protecting health care delivery. In Afghanistan alone, the ICRC registered a 50% increase of incidents against health staff and facilities, compared to the previous year. This is why the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, in its report to the Summit, has pledged to continue its “initiative to protect patients, health care workers, facilities and transport, and ensure access for all to life-saving health interventions, as formulated in resolution 4 adopted at the 32nd International Conference.”

Several aid organizations and State bodies also aligned on the call to stop simply documenting attacks on health care, but to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes. Among those who added their voice: the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.

In order to reach health goals, the Special Session concluded with general consensus on the need to have evidence-based medical interventions (which includes the provision of essential services in the fields of non-communicable diseases, vaccination, reproductive and mental health, etc.); cross-sector coordination (as population health depends on a wide array of socioeconomic factors stretching well beyond the health sector); enhanced management of epidemics; flexible, multi-year funding and protected healthcare workers, health facilities & transport services.

 

Esperanza Martinez’s full speech

Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues

We are here together, to explore – as a matter of urgency – ways to improve significantly the effectiveness of our health responses to the increasingly complex humanitarian situations we are facing globally.

Today, we are witnessing a different and fundamentally more challenging environment, a reality that our teams, in the field, are facing on a daily basis. In this environment, healthcare workers, facilities and transport services, are affected by attacks, threats and obstructions; and civilian populations are being arbitrarily prevented from accessing food and essential health services. For the ICRC this is a matter of great concern.

In this scenario, how can we talk about delivering universal health coverage if access of these populations to the very services required to ensure their survival is being denied by belligerent state and non-state actors?

The International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, is committed to advancing collaborative efforts to ensure that populations affected by armed conflict and natural disasters have access to healthcare and other essential services. In particular, we are determined to continue our Health Care in Danger initiative to prevent and address violence against patients, healthcare workers, facilities and transport services, and ensure access for all to life-saving health interventions. We are committed to do more but we are aware that more is not enough, that there is a need for consistent and efficient collaboration.

Our call today is for a translation of the outcomes of our discussions into collective action to ensure that populations in fragile settings have universal access to healthcare.

And we also call for a recognition that serving populations affected by armed conflict has unique challenges and that there is a need to optimally protect and support those who are able, and willing, to work in these dangerous settings.

Thank you