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Conflict and Health

Man and woman crossing a rope bridge

Program Director: Len Rubenstein

The stresses on population health and human rights are nowhere greater than in situations of armed conflict, political violence and state fragility. Often, health needs increase yet safe access to health care decreases. The program on Human Rights and Conflict and Health is designed to protect the integrity and security of health services, and those who provide and receive them, in the fraught circumstances of conflict or political upheaval.

The program develops mechanisms for monitoring, reporting and accountability in order to strengthen the protection of health workers, patients, facilities and ambulances from violent attack or interference in situations of conflict and political volatility. Among other research, it is part of a four-university research consortium, Researching the Impact of Attacks on Health Care in Conflict, based at University of Manchester UK, which is engaging in research in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Central African Republic, and Syria.

The program also engages in reporting and advocacy through the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, whose chair and secretariat are at the Center, that urges UN entities including the World Health Organization and the Security Council, legislative bodies, governments and others to take concerted action to prevent attacks on health care and hold perpetrators to account. The Coalition also publishes an annual global report on attacks on health care that is relied upon by health workers, ministries of health, diplomats, and many others as a key source of up-to-date information about the problem. The 2022 report identified more than 1,300 incidents of violence against health care in conflicts.

It has secured passage of key resolutions at the World Health Organization and legislation in the U.S. Congress. It also regularly publishes commentaries on health care in conflict in medical journals and major media, including on Myanmar in the Washington Post and in the Lancet, on Ukraine in the Journal of the American Medical Association, on Afghanistan in the Lancet and in Syria in the New York Times. 

Finally, the program supports the work of nongovernmental organizations, ministers of health, and civil society groups in developing methods of tracking and reporting attacks on health care.

Photo Credit: Karlo Emmanuel


The Maternal and Child Health Crisis in Afghanistan

This project aimed to learn about changes in working conditions, safety for practicing health workers and patients, access to quality of maternal and child health care and maternal and infant mortality.