Healthcare Challenges in Conflict Zones – Where do we go from here?

An examination of healthcare challenges in conflict zones could improve general health-oriented development goals and their implementation

In an era where the health-oriented Millennium Development Goals may no longer be sufficient for addressing global health, poverty and inequality, what should replace them and how can they be better implemented? In a time when intrastate war afflicts countries to the point that recurring violence and bad governance can inundate them, how can long-term health outcomes and overall health systems be improved? In the face of such conflict, the international community must develop strategies for improving healthcare delivery and overall population health. Those development strategies cannot be developed in isolation from conflict; on the contrary, in shaping new health-oriented development goals, considerations of conflict-related complications must be taken into account.

Current data demonstrates that states undergoing such public health issues as high maternal mortality rates are overwhelmingly in developing regions. In fact, the UN reports that developing regions still face 14 times higher maternal mortality rates than developed regions. What complicates this trend and relates the importance of building conflict into health goals and strategies is that some of the most deadly ongoing armed conflicts occur in developing states such as Afghanistan and South Sudan. Development, conflict and health crises may not be directly related; however, overlaps and correlations, as well as the vast numbers of people who die from preventable diseases or treatable wounds in conflict or post-conflict settings mean that we should be paying attention to health in conflict settings in approaching future development strategies.

While some improvement in maternal mortality and reproductive health access has been reported, over 35 million people still live with HIV/AIDS and child mortality remains problematic. There remain countless other health concerns that have not been targeted, especially in relation to conflict and post-conflict situations. In such situations, destroyed public health infrastructure and poor access to care can prevent the long-term improvement of population health. In post-conflict situations, non-communicable diseases can surge. While short-term humanitarian action can help to stabilize health crises, the broader development of fragile health systems requires a more sustainable mechanism for addressing long-term population health, disorders and diseases.

How then should health in conflict and post-conflict be incorporated into a new framework? Perhaps baseline data on household incomes, livelihoods, food security and coping mechanisms can help build a more targeted schematic for pinpointing where shortcomings in health systems will occur for populations undergoing shocks. Our panelist John Seaman OBE of Evidence for Development may allude to such data-driven techniques. Another approach, as panelist Richard Sullivan may present, is the collaboration of civil and military forces, with complementary strengths, to handle public health emergencies and deliver healthcare in post-conflict settings. Alternatively, it is possible that revised health-oriented development goals might simply benefit from a greater emphasis on the specific challenges that conflict zones present, meaning implementation strategies are more attuned to the development challenges that will be faced.

At the first session of the Post-2015 Development Challenges in Conflict Zones conference, a panel of health experts will bring options, solutions and critiques associated with healthcare provision in conflict and post-conflict situations from various academic, political and practical perspectives. The panel will discuss what should replace the lone health-related MDG in a post-2015 development agenda and how health can be better improved through a greater understanding of challenges in conflict and post-conflict situations. Visit our webpage for more information and for the biographies on our healthcare delivery panelists and chair.

We look forward to hearing your perspectives at the panel!

Best regards,

Bridget Golob


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