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Saving Lives In Humanitarian Crises


Displaced Burmese.

Mobile Obstetrics Medics project provides reproductive health care to displaced Burmese.

Protecting those most vulnerable must continue to be the United States Government’s top priority during humanitarian crises, said Eric P. Schwartz, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, in a recent speech at Johns Hopkins University.

Assistant Secretary Schwartz lauded the University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Mobile Obstetrics Medics project to provide reproductive health care to displaced Burmese, as an inspired example of how organizations, through creative and flexible approaches, can alleviate suffering and save lives in the worst humanitarian crises. He cited the lessons that can be learned by all aid providers: first, the Mobile Obstetrics Medics project has shown that access to those in need does not have to depend on fixed facilities, which may require complicated negotiations with local authorities that lack the responsible management to work with international organizations.

Second, vulnerable populations in fragile and failed states need more than food and shelter to survive. The Mobile Obstetrics Medics project demonstrated that health delivery programs are also critical to saving lives.

Third, a community-based approach involving local providers, as the Mobile Obstetrics Medics project has used, can better connect to those in need.

Fourth, service providers operating in environments without public services and infrastructure must also dedicate themselves to collecting useful data on the well being of populations, as the Mobile Obstetrics Medics project has done, to avoid working in an information vacuum.

Fifth, by focusing on the health of women, aid providers will also help their families and communities, since women are critical to achieving economic and social recovery.

Sixth, effective humanitarian aid programs should be tailored to promote regional well-being and stability.

Finally, Assistant Secretary Schwartz concluded, local capacity-building must be a major goal of all aid providers, since they should aim for the day when they are no longer needed.

Protecting the most vulnerable is our mission, Assistant Secretary Schwartz said, "both due to the moral imperative of saving lives, and also because it enhances our ability to promote reconciliation, security, and well-being in circumstances where despair and misery not only threaten stability, but also the national security interests of the United States."

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