Despite reforms access to healthcare still a concern

News and Press Release
Originally published

London, April 12, 2012 — As Bahrain implements reforms following protests that started last year, a significant number of patients – from all political and religious backgrounds - continue to avoid seeking medical care in public hospitals due to perceived discrimination, harassment, and ill treatment, the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said today.

In particular, according to information shared with MSF, a sizable number of people injured during political demonstrations and suffering from mild to severe orthopaedic injuries, skin lacerations and respiratory distress—resort to private healthcare because of fear of arrest in public hospitals. The fear among those seeking care remains despite government efforts to implement reforms recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.

“The healthcare system in Bahrain, which is of excellent quality, is still grappling with the consequences of being caught up in the political unrest that started last year. While a first aid post opened by MSF was closed in July 2011, our team, which remained in the country until March of this year, is aware that since last summer hundreds of patients avoided going to public hospitals,” said Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations in Brussels.

At the beginning of March, staff members were refused entry into the Kingdom of Bahrain. As a result, the organization has suspended activities in the country.

“We firmly believe that our organisation can support efforts by Bahrain’s health authorities to restore the trust of patients who currently do not view the health system as impartial,” Janssens continued.

MSF wishes to facilitate dialogue between health professionals in hospitals and other health centres. Furthermore, MSF is prepared to accompany patients to appropriate health facilities to verify that staff, patients, and security personnel are acting in compliance with universally recognized medical ethics and humanitarian principles. MSF also proposes technical support in emergency preparedness and mental health.

MSF first provided support to victims of violence in Bahrain in March 2011, after the onset of civil unrest in the country. Since then, MSF has continuously sought dialogue with the authorities, and provided medical support where possible, including training health staff on mass casualty management and mental health-related issues.

All activities were conducted in accordance with the organisation’s medical humanitarian mandate to provide medical assistance based on the principles of impartiality, neutrality, and independence.

Over the past year, several proposals have been submitted to Bahrain’s Ministry of Health, but unfortunately the MSF’s proposals and expressed concerns have gone unanswered.

MSF reiterates its request to be permitted to operate in Bahrain for the sake of all patients, regardless of their political or religious affiliation, and remains available to meet with relevant authorities, in particular the Ministry of Health, to initiate a constructive dialogue.