231845 Roles, Opportunities and Current Dilemmas for Health Professionals in the Midst of Armed Conflicts

Monday, November 8, 2010 : 8:50 AM - 9:10 AM

Susannah Sirkin, MEd , Physicians for Human Rights, Deputy Director, Cambridge, MA
In the midst of armed conflicts, local and international health professionals are called upon to carry out many life-saving duties, including providing for the acute needs of the sick and wounded in a politically neutral manner. As ‘first-responders” to violent crises, health professionals are also frequently in the unique position of witnessing the impact of indiscriminate attacks on civilians, torture, rape, sexual slavery, forced conscription of children, use of illegal weapons, extrajudicial killings, and destruction of infrastructure and resources essential to survival. They may observe attacks on health professionals and facilities and/or be the targets of such attacks themselves. Based on more than 20 years of field investigation, analysis and reporting by Physicians for Human Rights, this presentation will focus on the myriad roles, challenges and risks health professionals face in the midst of armed conflicts, and examine the obligations and dilemmas of those providing emergency health responses, as well as of those who take on the task of collecting documentation and evidence essential to protection, prevention and care for survivors. Advances in methods of collecting both quantitative and qualitative health data in conflict situations and ethical dilemmas regarding research, publication and advocacy by health professionals will be reviewed. Current challenges relating to access to populations, security, and the uses of documentation will be presented. The tensions and synergies as well as overlap between “humanitarian' and “human rights” response will be highlighted, especially in light of the 2009 expulsion of aid agencies from Darfur by the Government of Sudan.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Other professions or practice related to public health

Learning Objectives:
Explain the myriad roles, challenges and risks health professionals face in conflict zones. Analyze tensions between providing care and serving as witnesses. Discuss opportunities, obligations and risks for health professionals in current conflict situations.

Keywords: War, International Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have coordinated and overseen investigation and reporting by health professionals in armed conflicts for 23 years as Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.