Health workers have played an important role in the string of democratic protests that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa this year. In Tunis, in Tahrir Square, in Misrata, and elsewhere, health workers have risked their lives to provide medical care to revolutionaries and security forces alike — even in the face of great personal risk. Nowhere else is this danger as acute as in Bahrain where a recent report by Medecins Sans Frontieres has documented the brutal crackdowns on health workers in the country.
Instead of asserting the neutrality of the medical structures, the government declared Salmaniya Hospital a legitimate military target, calling it a “stronghold of the opposition protestors.” This completely and wrongfully undermined the notion that all patients have a right to treatment and all medical staff have a fundamental duty to administer treatment. This military reaction was exponentially more damaging to the trust in the health system than the activities of the opposition protestors.
Now — according to an opposition leader — Bahrain going a step further, cracking down on health workers for collecting data on the number of injured and killed during the country’s democratic protests. If true, it is the latest attempt by Bahrain’s government to cover up their violent suppression of the democratic movement in the country. Health statistics have power. One only needs to look at the controversey over the mortality statistics of the Iraq War to see how health data can sway domestic and international public opinion. Without accurate data, the world will never know about the extent of Bahrain’s violent repression of its citizens. The crackdown on health workers in Bahrain highlights the need for greater protection for health workers during civil strife.