Syria: Conflicts highlight need for international health cover for voluntary workers

Figures released recently by international health insurance provider APRIL International UK show the potential cost of not having effective international health insurance cover in place can be very high, if you are one of the many voluntary NGO and other workers currently active in these conflict zones. MediCare Intentional highlights the case of a freelance reporter who was on an assignment in Afghanistan when he was seriously wounded by one of the many insurgent groups there. Shot in an ambush, the reporter was admitted to a local military hospital intensive care unit where he was treated and stabilised for gunshot wounds to the chest. He was operated on immediately and flown out of Afghanistan on a German military flight at a cost of $5000 USD. The total cost for the military flight and the surgery eventually totalled £35,533.66, but luckily, he will make a good recovery. The reporter probably owes his survival to the fact that he was able to be treated rapidly and then evacuated. In Syria, where the civil war has been raging for three years, 50 leading health care experts have warned that with more than half of the country's hospitals already destroyed or damaged in the civil war, the country’s healthcare system is on the verge of collapse. In three years of civil war, 37 per cent of Syrian hospitals have been destroyed, and a further 20 per cent severely damaged, according to figures released by the World Health organisation. With normal civil society on the brink of collapse, the role of NGOs and other voluntary organisations has become pivotal in helping to deliver basic food aid, security and healthcare. The UNHCR has a central role controlling, facilitating and coordinating the work of these organisations, of which some of the main names are Action Contre Le Faim, Danish Refugee Council, HELP, IECD, International Medical Corps, Premier Urgence and Islamic Relief France. Although this work received a significant boost in July of this year, when the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution directly authorising UN agencies and their implementing partners to deliver aid across Syria’s borders and conflict lines, the lot of the voluntary aid worker is not without its own risks. Despite careful planning and a far greater ability to avoid aerial bombings and on the ground fire fights, since 2011, according to The Aid Worker Security Database, which records major incidents of violence against aid workers, the Syrian conflict has claimed 102 victims in the period up until 2013, with 46 killed and 25 wounded. Whilst these numbers are small in comparison to the total civilians affected by the conflict, they do illustrate the dangers faced by voluntary workers and the need for them to have effective international medical insurance to ensure treatment and if necessary evacuation, in the event of an accident or injury. Yet many of the policies offered by the major international health cover groups often have a full war risk exclusion, meaning aid and voluntary workers will not necessarily be covered for treatment and evacuation costs, in the event of an emergency. APRIL International UK is one of the few to provide a ‘passive war’ cover including war and terrorist attack which addresses this need head on. Commenting on the importance of this type of insurance being in place, Debbie Purser, managing director of international medical insurance specialists APRIL International UK said, “For freelance workers, NGO and voluntary aid teams, ready access to good quality international private healthcare for front line staff is essential, as the speed with which a patient is treated is often a factor in how quickly and fully they can recover. Particularly in countries such as Afghanistan and Syria, where the medical infrastructure has been torn apart, access to basic lifesaving procedures such as intensive care can be extremely difficult, making evacuation to a suitable local medical centre essential, if lives are to be saved. In such circumstances, it is reassuring to know policies such as our Executive International option can provide for a patient to be airlifted out, should the need arise.”