Ongoing Politicization of Medical Affairs in Bahrain Requires Vigorous Response

The cancellation of an international medical ethics conference that had been scheduled for April 10-12 in Bahrain is another sign that the country’s rulers continue a systematic pattern of politicizing medical affairs.

The organizers, Médecins Sans Frontières and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland at the Medical University of Bahrain, said they were forced to cancel the conference because they had not received confirmation of the government’s approval. The medical school’s president, Prof. Tom Collins, resigned in protest over the cancellation.

The dozens of medical professionals arrested in early 2011 include graduates of the Royal College of Surgeons. Those arrests, along with military crackdown at the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama, showed flagrant disregard for all principles of medical neutrality. The attack on the hospital and on its medical personnel, the misuse of its facilities by security forces, and the subsequent militarization of the entire health sector have had a huge negative impact on health services in Bahrain.

The decision in March by a Bahrain court of appeals to reverse the convictions of 21 medics does little to improve the situation. The medics’ confessions were obtained under torture and their convictions were illegal. Despite the appeals court’s decision, the Ministry of Health has not permitted the medics to return to their jobs, and continues its harassment by complicating their attempts to practice medicine not just in Bahrain but in other Arab Gulf states. And politics have also infringed on the independence of such private institutions as Bahrain’s medical, dental, and nursing societies.

Still languishing behind bars on political charges are several dedicated medical professionals: Drs. Ali Al-Ekri (serving a five-year sentence) and Ibrahim Al Demestani (three years), along with staff nurse Hassan Matouq (three years), pharmacist Ahmed Al Mushatat (two years), and nurse assistant Halima Al Sabagh (one year).

In the face of such ongoing attacks and injustices, we must continue pressure on the Bahrain regime to release all medical staff still in prison and to stop its violation of all forms of medical neutrality. We call on all human rights organizations and United Nations institutions to add their voices to this urgent plea for justice for medical professionals in Bahrain.

Dr. Nabeel H. Tammam is a Bahraini ear, nose, and throat specialist who established the Voice Clinic at Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama in 2000. He has worked for Bahrain’s Ministry of Health since 1986.

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