A leading United Nations (UN) official has called for security measures for staff helping to fight health emergencies to be stepped up urgently.
The comments come just days after a front-line Ebola epidemic community worker was reportedly stabbed to death at his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Speaking at a Geneva Peace Week event, Director of the World Health Organization’s Emergencies Programme, Dr Mike Ryan said that in his 25-year humanitarian career, violence carried out deliberately against health workers and hospitals has “never been so bad.”
Despite the risks of working in insecure locations, “one doesn’t really have a choice but to go, as the epidemic will continue to spread and intensify like a fire if it’s not put out,” he said. “It does put our workers at the extreme edge of risk.”
However, Dr Ryan stressed, “we can’t sit back and wait for international humanitarian law to change or political will to change.” Instead, he said it is necessary to professionalise how people operate in these situations. “We need to improve our security briefings for staff, we need to improve awareness among our staff,” he said.
The latest data show there have been 862 reported attacks on healthcare workers and facilities in 2019.