March 25, 2013

Lack of assurance from authorities prevents discussion on critical topic.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been forced to cancel a conference on medical ethics due to take place in Bahrain in April, because of a lack of assurances from authorities, MSF announced today. The conference was to be held in the Bahraini capital, Manama, April 10 and 11.

Doctors, hospital managers and decision makers from across the Middle East were to discuss the challenges faced by medical staff in politically unstable contexts, and explore how hospitals can remain secure havens where health workers can freely perform their duties and patients can safely receive medical assistance.

“After a year of discussions, we still do not have the support we need to go ahead with the conference,” says physician Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. “As a result, we are forced to conclude that today in Bahrain it is not possible for medical professionals and international impartial participants to have a conversation about medical ethics.”

The uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa continue to present numerous challenges to medical and humanitarian organizations, and to negatively impact the delivery of care to patients. “We strongly believe in the relevance of this topic and will be identifying other locations in the region where it is possible to have a discussion about medical ethics,” says Janssens.

MSF first provided support to victims of violence in Bahrain in March 2011 after the onset of civil unrest there. In 2011 and 2012, MSF submitted several proposals to Bahrain’s Ministry of Health to carry out medical activities, including accompanying patients to health facilities to verify that staff, patients, and security personnel were acting in compliance with universally recognized medical ethics. MSF also offered to provide mental healthcare and technical support in emergency preparedness.