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Bahrain Hit By Doctors’ Desertion


line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>At least 20 civilians were killed by government forces – opposition leaders say the figures is four times as great – in the failed uprising by the majority Shia Muslim community against the minority Sunni-led government of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa two years ago. Security forces stormed hospitals in the kingdom and tortured patients in medical care, tearing apart the hitherto non-sectarian health service. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) – which trained many of the doctors later arrested by the regime – was bitterly criticised after the violence for not condemning government brutality.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>At least 40 Bahraini doctors, many of them attached to the RCSI medical university on the island, were arrested and charged after the mini-uprising of 2011 – four are still in prison – although Professor Collins has pleaded for their release. A prestigious roster of speakers was to have included Professor Patrick Roe, the president of RCSI, a consultant general surgeon at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Anastasia Crickley of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Baroness Nuala O'Loan, Northern Ireland's first – and highly controversial – police ombudsman from 2000 to 2007. Many attribute Catholic trust in the new Police Service of Northern Ireland to the work of Lady O'Loan. The organisers were to show a film, Access to the Danger Zone, on MSF doctors in Afghanistan and other wars, narrated by Daniel Day-Lewis.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>According to his colleagues, Professor Collins felt there were important parallels between the situation in Bahrain and that in Northern Ireland, which made the conference all the more valuable for Bahrain. "There was a sectarian dimension to the uprising in Bahrain – but in neither Bahrain nor Northern Ireland was it as initially sectarian as it was made out to be," one of the professor's fellow teachers said. "In both cases, the authorities responded to a political problem with a security response – and drove the sectarian wedge deeper. Then came internment in Northern Ireland and Bloody Sunday, all of them disproportionate responses, radicalising the minority [Catholic] population. There has now been a high level of radicalisation among the Shia in Bahrain. The lesson from Northern Ireland is that you can create political engagement providing you have institutional and legitimate frameworks to guarantee human rights."

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Bahrain's royal family – dominated by Saudi Arabia, whose soldiers were sent into the island as part of a Gulf Co-operation Council force to crush the uprising – now faces a hard task to explain why an international conference on medical ethics cannot be held in the kingdom. Dr Bart Janssens, MSF's director of operations, says that "after a year of discussions, we still do not have the support we need to go ahead with the conference. As a result, we are forced to conclude that today in Bahrain, it is not possible for medical professionals and international impartial participants to have a conversation about medical ethics." According to Dr Janssens, who is from Belgium, MSF will look for other locations in the Gulf.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>MSF has repeatedly proposed to the Bahraini ministry of health that it would accompany patients to health centres to verify that staff, patients and security personnel were acting in compliance with medical ethics. The ministry failed to reply. Jonathan Whittall, of MSF in the Middle East, says that health facilities in Bahrain became a battleground.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-weight:bold”>Bahrain's royal family is divided over how to respond to the majority Shia demand for more political power. Crown Prince Salman is a reformist – hence, presumably, his desire to hold the international conference on medical ethics – but others, under the influence of the Saudis, believe that no way should be opened to reform.













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