Protect the health carers to ensure access to care

Project completed
A group of Colombians listens to ICRC representatives.
An ICRC employee explains the importance of respect for medical facilities during armed conflicts to a group of Columbian citizens. © ICRC ©

In Colombia, doctors and nurses have difficulty in carrying out their work in areas affected by the armed conflict. They are subjected to threats, abuse, and are in some cases murdered, making it impossible for them to gain access to thousands of patients in need. The SDC supports a programme run jointly by the ICRC, the Colombian Red Cross and the Colombian authorities to protect the "Misión Médica" (medical mission).

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Humanitarian Assistance & DRR
Human rights
Rule of Law - Democracy - Human rights
Material relief assistance
Human rights (incl. Women's rights)
01.01.2015 - 31.12.2015
CHF  3’500’000

Over the past two decades, the Colombian Ministry of Health and Social Protection has recorded more than 1,100 attacks against medical staff and health facilities in Colombia. These attacks have resulted in the death of more than 900 doctors and nurses. In addition, medical staff are denied access to medical facilities and prevented from distributing medicines. As a result, thousands of people are denied essential care.

The protection of medical staff – the "Misión Médica" – has become a priority for the Colombian authorities. The Spanish term "Misión Médica" covers medical staff, means of transport and health facilities. The "Misión Médica" emblem is intended to protect all health-care providers as they go about their work, particularly in regions beset by violence. With the support of the SDC, the ICRC, the Colombian Red Cross and the Colombian national authorities have set up an ambitious project to raise awareness of the "Health care in danger" initiative.

Manual to protect medical staff

Thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, a decree on the protection of medical services was adopted in 2002. The practical result of the decree is a manual entitled "Manual de misión medica" for all medical staff in Colombia, which contains numerous guidelines, including recommendations on the use of the "Misión Médica" emblem and the measures to be taken when it is not respected. The manual also outlines the rights and obligations that apply to medical staff while they carry out their duties.

The Colombian Red Cross and the ICRC were involved in the drafting of the manual from the beginning and have supported the local authorities in disseminating the document and training medical staff working in health care facilities throughout the country. At the same time, in 2012 the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross launched a campaign to promote the emblem to ensure that it is respected by everyone, including armed groups. Posters, radio spots and brochures will be used until the campaign ends in 2015.

Joint SDC and ICRC objective

The SDC is an important partner of the ICRC in Colombia. Through its support for the ICRC's activities in Colombia, Switzerland is contributing to one of the goals the two institutions have in common: ensuring the protection of civilians and their access to basic services, including health care.

The ICRC's "Health care in danger" initiative is also significant for historic reasons. The necessity of protecting medical staff in conflict zones to enable them to provide care to non-combatants without restrictions was already at the heart of the discussions that were held during the drafting of the First Geneva Convention in 1864. 150 years have passed but the situation in Colombia shows that this cause is as relevant today as it was then.

An example of a poster used during the "Misión Médica" public awareness campaign. © CICR