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Access to healthcare remains a concern despite reforms

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Brussels, 12 April  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 organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

The fear among those seeking care remains despite government efforts to implement reforms recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.  In particular, according to information shared with MSF, a sizeable number of people injured during political demonstrations, 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 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 have 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 organisation 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 recognised medical ethics and humanitarian principles. MSF also proposes technical support in emergency preparedness and mental healthcare.

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 in 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 these proposals and concerns expressed by MSF 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.