Act now to address urgent threats posed by escalating armed conflict and militarisation, say health experts

Armed conflict and militarisation pose grave and escalating threats to health worldwide and must be tackled urgently, warned a coalition of leading health, peace, development and security organisations at a conference in London today.

The event – organised 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 – brings 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 mobilise around a security agenda that focuses on the prevention of war, and includes protection from poverty and climate change.

Medact Director and physician, Dr David McCoy, called for 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.

“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”.

Fikr Shalltoot, MAP Programme Director, based in Gaza said: “As the individuals who witness suffering at its most acute, frontline medical staff have a vital part to play in highlighting the devastating impact of today’s conflict on innocent civilians.”

“The deaths of 16 medical workers whilst on duty in Gaza last year, and injury to a further 83, demonstrate that medics find themselves increasingly in the line of fire. Peace will only be possible in a world where the voices of health workers are heard and their lives – and the lives of those they treat – are protected.”

In the wake of recent attacks on healthcare facilities and providers in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine, delegates staged a solidarity action in support of existing calls by the World Health Organisation and International Committee of the Red Cross for governments to recommit to international humanitarian law , and wider calls for a more effective and just response to Europe’s worst displacement crisis since World War II.

This mobilisation of the UK health community signals mounting concern over the failure of governments to adequately address the root causes of violence and conflict.

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.

The conference is an opportunity to for the UK health community to develop recommendations for the British government in the lead up to the National Security Strategy review in December this year, and the decision on the renewal of Trident in 2016. It aims to mobilise harness the voice and mandate of health professionals to challenge the drivers of conflict, mass displacement and violations of international humanitarian law, all of which undermine healthcare, exacerbate inequality, and end and blight the lives of hundreds of millions worldwide.