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Colombia: Fighting disrupts healthcare in northern Cauca

Colombia: Fighting disrupts health-care services in northern Cauca

Cali / Bogotá / Geneva, 21 August 2012 – Recent clashes between the armed forces and armed groups have disrupted health-care services in Toribío and Jambaló districts, in the north of Cauca department in southern Colombia. In the past few days, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Colombian Red Cross (CRC) have stepped up their efforts to support the indigenous health-care service in the area by running mobile clinics able to treat more than 40,000 people.

"The armed conflict is seriously affecting public health," said Pascal Porchet, who heads the ICRC sub-delegation in Cali. "Security incidents that endanger health-care personnel and facilities are a real cause for concern. All parties to the conflict have a duty to protect and spare health-care personnel and facilities, whose purpose is to save lives and to care for children and the elderly, the sick and the wounded," he added.

The mobile clinics provide health care for people living in all 25 villages of Toribío and Jambaló. They are run jointly by staff from the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross, including doctors, nurses and psychologists, as well as dental personnel, health-education staff and vaccination specialists from the indigenous health-care service, which also supplies vaccines and medicines. The ICRC provides the necessary logistical resources and arranges the security guarantees that enable the teams to work safely in the area.

As part of the National Society's plan of action to meet humanitarian needs in Cauca, and specifically the strategy on primary health care for affected communities, priority is being given to promoting health and preventing disease.

"Mental health is a key aspect of the team's work, which is carried out with the help of professional psychologists," said Francisco Moreno, director-general of health at the Colombian Red Cross. Through this psychosocial support, the aim is to boost people's ability to overcome their ordeal.

Already this year, the ICRC has recorded 57 incidents in which health-care provision was disrupted in Colombia, as against 50 recorded incidents for the whole of 2011. Worryingly, incidents targeting health-care services have been on the rise since 2010. Attacks on health-care facilities and vehicles, threats against staff and the theft of medical supplies are all spreading fear in the area. These factors have led to the suspension of health-care services in remote areas where there is little government presence and people's needs are acute.

The ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation under international humanitarian law to spare and protect health-care personnel, facilities and vehicles in all circumstances.

One of the ICRC's current priorities in countries affected by armed conflict is to safeguard access to health care.

The International Committee of the Red Cross - working to protect and assist people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence. Find out more: www.icrc.org

ENDS

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