August 19, 2016

Today is World Humanitarian Day, an annual event designated by the United Nations to “recognize the aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service, and mobilize people to advocate for humanitarian action.”

More than 35,000 people helped Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) deliver emergency humanitarian medical care to people affected by crisis last year. Many of our workers sacrifice their comfort and their careers in order provide urgent assistance to the people who need it most; many others devote their lives to helping MSF bring hope and care to their own countries and communities. In some extreme cases, in places where militaries and governments have violated the international humanitarian law that protects medical caregivers, some MSF staff have even given their lives.

The people who deliver humanitarian medical care with MSF do so in order to alleviate immediate suffering, but also to bring attention to the conditions and issues that cause that suffering. So in honour of their work, and in recognition of the ongoing need for direct humanitarian action around the world, we’re marking World Humanitarian Day by looking at some of the most important humanitarian issues affecting our patients in more than 60 different countries in 2016:

 

Displacement

Right now there are more than 65 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes by violence, persecution and trauma. A huge number of these people are escaping war from three countries affected by conflict — Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq — and their flight from war zones has created a crisis situation in surrounding countries and on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

As MSF Canada Executive Director Stephen Cornish writes in the most recent issue of Dispatches, the MSF Canada magazine, the current displacement crisis goes far beyond boats of people trying to reach Europe — “it includes mothers and children trapped by civil conflict in protection camps in South Sudan; Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic unable to return to their respective neighbourhoods because of ongoing violence and sectarian tension; and children sent from their homes in Honduras so they can escape assaults and forced recruitment into street gangs. This is a global crisis in need of a global response, one based on a shared sense of empathy, responsibility and urgency.

MSF continues to be present in many of the places where displaced people begin, pursue and end their journeys. We do so to alleviate suffering, provide emergency care and restore dignity to people in need, regardless of their origins, their stories or their identities.”

 

#NotATarget: Attacks on civilians and hospitals in war zones

This week, an airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Yemen killed at least 11 people and injured nearly 20 more. It was the fourth attack against one of our facilities in Yemen in the last year, and one of hundreds of attacks on hospitals and other civilian places that have taken place not just in Yemen, but in also in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other places affected by war.

Under international humanitarian law, hospitals and civilians are protected in conflict zones. People seeking medical care, no matter who they are, cannot be military targets. And yet in war zones where four out of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are active, hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses and patients continue to be targeted and killed.

That’s why Doctors Without Borders launched our #NotATarget campaign earlier this year, to insist that governments around the world live up to their obligations under international law and stop the inhuman killing of innocent children and adults. It is not only humanitarians and medical caregivers who are at risk, but those who depend on them the most — the civilians who suffer in war zones and who otherwise have no access to medical help.

 

Women’s health  

Every day an average of 830 women die due to pregnancy-related causes, according to the United Nations. Most of these deaths are preventable. In many countries and for a multitude of reasons, women deliver at home. In fact, only 40 per cent of deliveries worldwide take place in medical structures. And in the countries where home-births are most common, maternal mortality is the highest.

As MSF is often the only health provider in many regions where we work, women frequently have to travel long distances to reach us, and they may not begin this journey until complications have already developed.

In many places, women (and men) are also at risk of sexual violence, which affects millions of people, destroying lives and families and damaging communities. It is a medical emergency, the impact of which is compounded in many countries by a dire absence of health care services for the victims.

In conflicts, rape and other forms of sexual violence are often widespread and can be used to humiliate, punish, control, injure, inflict fear and destroy communities. But in times of stability, sexual violence can also be a grave problem. In both settings, perpetrators are frequently people who are supposed to provide security, in their own homes and in their societies at large.

 

Global Fund replenishment and the fight against HIV

At the World AIDS Conference in Durban in July 2016, delegates agreed that the global fight against HIV/AIDS need to reach the so-called 90-90-90 targets: 90 per cent of HIV-infected people aware of their status; 90 per cent of known patients on treatment; and 90 per cent of patients on treatment achieving viral load suppression.

But for these targets to be reached, it is critical that we pay attention to places where efforts to combat HIV have so far not been focused: There are 6.6 million people infected with HIV in so-called “low-prevalence” countries in Central and Western Africa, and they have been among those left behind by global HIV programs.

The world needs to show its commitment. Next month the Global Fund, which is the foremost funding mechanism for programs to fight HIV/AIDS around the world, meets in Montreal to replenish its funding for the next three years. Canada, as the host country, has signaled its intention to contribute to achieving the 90-90-90 goals; it must also take the lead and help other countries to do the same.

 

Forgotten crises

While the conflict in Syria and the refugee crisis on the Mediterranean are major humanitarian issues the world is facing right now, there are many more that don’t make the headlines.

MSF works in more than 60 countries around the world, responding to many crises that never make the news. But without an international response, people in these places will continue to suffer.

In Nigeria, hundreds of thousands of people displaced by conflict and terror are trapped in horrendous living conditions and suffering from widespread malnutrition. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, people are dying from preventable diseases like pneumonia and are cut off from basic care by poverty and violence. In South Sudan, more than a million people have been displaced by an ongoing civil conflict. Many are starving and in need of shelter and medical care.

In these places and elsewhere, sexual violence puts women’s lives and health at risk. Malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases are killing millions. And people in many countries have no access to essential healthcare.

 

 

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