Title: Maintaining One’s Health During Times of War

War has a devastating effect on civilians’ health by limiting their access to proper medical care as well as acting as a petri dish for pathogens to prosper.

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The sounds of shots fired and the constant blasts of explosions are heard from miles away. The deafening roars of machinery and the jets flying above seem never-ending. Such is the harsh reality for people in major war zones and areas of combat, such as in Syria, Yemen, and most recently, Ukraine. Throughout history, war has been declared for many reasons, in many places, and by many people. However, in every war, one thing holds true: civilians are faced with impending challenges that drastically rearrange their priorities and force them to accommodate to the rapidly changing climate. In situations where people find their houses destroyed and food in short supply, the need for acquiring basic necessities is imperative to anything else. The shift in priorities as well as the destruction of important public buildings leads to unfortunate situations where people cannot maintain their own health.

To visually categorize the importance placed on the different aspects of our life, we can refer to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is divided into five basic categories of needs: physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. To move up to another tier, an individual would have to satisfy all the needs of the tier below it. For example, normally, in times of peace, we find ourselves with the “fundamental needs” of air, water, food, and shelter. So, we would typically at least be in the tier above physiological needs–the “safety needs,” comprising of employment, health, and property. In times of conflict, individuals would think more about achieving their physiological needs than their safety needs. One particular factor that falls under the category of safety needs is health.

Along with the change in precedence, the fatal destruction of buildings in warzones intensifies the difficulty of acquiring appropriate medical help. According to the International Humanitarian Law (IHL), hospitals, medical units, and medical personnel are afforded “special protection,” meaning they are not allowed to be targets of attacks, even if they are housing sick soldiers from the opposing side. Despite this law, the declaration has been ignored on several occasions. For example, since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, there have been 223 attacks on 175 health facilities. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been more than 70 separate attacks on hospitals, ambulances, and doctors in Ukraine, and the numbers are increasing on a daily basis. With this ignorance of not only the IHL but also patients’ rights to seek proper medical assistance, these attacks prevent innocent civilians from obtaining the care they need during wartime, posing an additional risk to their already dire situation.

Thus, without hospitals and other health centers, diseases and infections are bound to worsen since there aren’t appropriate centers or equipment to treat them. Contagious diseases are already a great challenge to deal with normally, but in times of war and conflict, concern surrounding the spread of diseases is significantly amplified. This is not only because of the increased contact between people but also because of the destruction that comes with war. In Ukraine, in lieu of medical centers, many refugees stay in overcrowded unsanitary shelters that are ideal breeding grounds for diseases such as cholera, pneumonia, and COVID-19. Despite the convenience of tracing methods, the war has made it difficult for tracing and diagnosing those who are ill because of the mass displacement of people. In fact, health officials are concerned that the late improvements in restraining the spread of many contagious diseases will regress due to war’s effect on hindering scientific advancements as well as providing environments in which pathogens can thrive.

Even during the war, it is imperative for civilians and soldiers, whether involved in the war effort or not, to be able to acquire medical assistance. Though it may sometimes be difficult to think that people do not have the things we take for granted, such as our local doctor’s office, it is vital to recognize that this is the reality for many people in the world right now, and to appreciate the importance of our own health systems and staff.