Bahrain: Despite Reforms, Patients Still Fear Health System

In Bahrain, people continue to avoid seeking medical care in public hospitals for fear of discrimination, harassment, and ill treatment.

NEW YORK/BRUSSELS, APRIL 12, 2012—As Bahrain implements reforms amidst protests that began last year, a significant number of people from all political and religious backgrounds continue to avoid seeking medical care in public hospitals for fear of discrimination, harassment, and ill treatment, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

According to information shared with MSF, a sizeable number of people injured during political demonstrations, and suffering from mild to severe orthopedic injuries, skin lacerations, and respiratory distress, resort to private health care facilities 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 health care 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,” said Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations in Brussels. “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 hundreds of patients have avoided going to public hospitals since last summer.”

At the beginning of March, MSF 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 organization can support efforts by Bahrain’s health authorities to restore the trust of patients who currently do not view the health system as impartial,” said Janssens.

MSF wishes to facilitate dialogue between health professionals in hospitals and other health centers. 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 care.

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 organization’s medical humanitarian mandate to provide assistance based on the principles of impartiality, neutrality, and independence.

Over the past year, MSF has submitted several proposals to Bahrain’s Ministry of Health. Unfortunately, the proposals and MSF’s 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.

MSF was founded in 1971 with the express purpose of assisting people unable to access or receive emergency medical assistance. For the past 40 years, MSF has based its work around the world on the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence, and on the right to humanitarian assistance.