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Armed conflict, militarization pose grave escalating threats to health worldwide

December 9, 2015

“We can give up hope and ensure that the worst will happen, or we can grasp what rays of hope there are – and they are not lacking – and try to make the world a better place. It’s not a difficult choice,” said Dr Sarah Alhulail, quoting Noam Chomsky, at the closing session of the recent Medact Health through Peace conference in London.  “We need a movement that is bold and positively radical in its demand for a fairer, safer and better world,” said the young doctor from Kuwait. screenshot Dr. Alhulail Medact conf

A worldwide health movement to stem the tide of violence is ever more important in light of the dire news from many parts of the globe including the refugee crisis, the expanding use of explosive devices including landmines in the Middle East, and the nearly half million people murdered each year.

The death and injury toll is underscored in the new World Health Organization (WHO) report Health 2015: From MDGs to SDGs. “One of the main drivers of homicide rates is access to guns, with approximately half of all homicides committed with a firearm,” says WHO. “Far more people suffer severe health consequences as a result of nonfatal assaults, often sustaining serious injuries requiring emergency care and in some cases resulting in lifelong disability.”

WHO reveals that although homicides have been trending down for the past 20 years worldwide, they remain high in low-middle income countries in the Americas region, where the murder rate is four times higher than those globally.  And, since 2011, “there has been an upturn in conflict deaths, notably due to the increased level of conflict in the Middle East. It appears likely that conflict mortality levels for 2015 may be similar to or exceed those for 1990,” says WHO.

Strategic priorities in the report include strengthening the role of the health system in addressing interpersonal violence, in particular against women and girls and against children, strengthening leadership and governance of the health system; strengthening health service delivery and the capacity of health workers to respond to violence; strengthening programming for prevention; and improving research and information.


Photo credit: Chris Basford

Organizers and participants of the Health through Peace conference agree. “Armed conflict and militarization pose grave and escalating threats to health worldwide and must be tackled urgently,” warned the  coalition of leading health, peace, development and security organizations who met in London on the 13th & 14th November. The event was organized by Medact and supported by The Lancet, The BMJ, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Saferworld, International Alert, Oxford Research Group, Kings College London, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and the Faculty of Public Health.

It brought together over 700 doctors, nurses, scientists, frontline humanitarian workers, health science students, academics and others to discuss the reality on the ground of wars in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. And, to mobilize around a security agenda that focuses on the prevention of war, and includes protection from poverty and climate change.

In their statement, they said, “Our approach to national security which has seen us launch wars, directly and by proxy, has been ineffective and counter-productive, and a disaster for millions of people.”

Dr. David McCoy, Medact Director and physician, called for the UK parliament and the wider public to question and challenge a reliance on military force and the threat of violence as the basis for ensuring national security. Editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, urged the government to reframe its conception of security to ensure a “healthier, more peaceful, more just future for all peoples, on all continents.”

“Medact sees Health Through Peace as just the beginning of a wider project to revitalize the movement of health professionals in the UK speaking out and taking action on these issues. But, we can’t tackle the crises we currently face without an international progressive health movement that can take action together. We therefore want to make links with the progressive health community across the world, and strengthen our collective capacity to effect change,” said Dr. McCoy.
“We look forward to creating new relationships and links with colleagues across the world in this endeavor,” said Dr. Chris Venables, Medact Program Manager.

Mark your calendars for next year’s Medact conference “Planetary Health & Justice” with a focus on climate change, December 9-10, 2016 in London.

Medact has published a wide range of resources from the conference, including many recordings (audio & video) of the lectures and workshops. A good place to start is the short highlights video.

Medact conf logoThe Health Through Peace forum two-day programme is available here.

Visit the Medact Youtube channel.

 Thanks to Medact’s Dr. Chris Venables for a summary of the Medact conference.

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