[The Lancet] A new report by a group of Irish lawyers draws attention to links between Irish medical education in Bahrain and ongoing human rights abuses in the Gulf Kingdom. Sharmila Devi reports.
The Irish Medical Council is being urged by Ceartas—Irish Lawyers for Human Rights—not to accredit the Bahrain college of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) because of continued allegations of ill-treatment and torture by Bahraini defence forces in hospitals linked to the college.
The Medical Council is scheduled to visit the Gulf Kingdom later this year to assess the RCSI-Bahrain, using standards of the World Federation for Medical Education to evaluate training programmes and the hospitals where they are undertaken. The Ceartas report
—Human Rights Law and the Accreditation of RCSI-Bahrain
—said that if the Medical Council went ahead with the visit, the first since civil unrest broke out, then it should investigate allegations of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. It should also take into account the continued persecution of medical professionals for their treatment of protesters, discrimination against the Shia majority in the provision of health care at sites of clinical tuition, and discriminatory employment practices in the Bahraini health sector.
Since pro-democracy protests erupted in Bahrain in early 2011, members of the Shia majority have clashed with government troops of the minority Sunni-led regime in practically weekly protests in the suburbs of the capital Manama. The opposition claims a death toll of at least 80.
The Ceartas report, released on May 30, said RCSI-Bahrain was attached to hospitals run by the Bahraini Defence Forces and many people, including non-protesters, feared seeking treatment. “Our report shows how RCSI-Bahrain is sending its students to be trained in militarised hospital facilities where human rights groups continue to report how patients are subject to ill-treatment and, in some cases, torture”, Gearóid Ó Cuinn, co-director of Ceartas, tells The Lancet.
The report said pregnant women who suffered miscarriages from tear gas exposure were reportedly denied access to their medical records while the Bahraini authorities threatened action against doctors who refused to report protesters taken to RSCI-affiliated hospitals. “Approval from the Medical Council would not occur if these sites of clinical tuition were located in Ireland”, says Ó Cuinn.
“Ceartas is not alone in questioning whether Bahrain's medical facilities live up to international standards. We can also reveal that Salmaniya Medical Complex, a hospital used for training by RCSI-Bahrain students, no longer has the approval of Accreditation Canada.”
Ó Cuinn noted how 2 years of pressure from the international community had failed to protect the rights of medical staff and patients in Bahrain and queried whether the Medical Council could, by itself, ensure compliance with international standards. The Medical Council would not comment before The Lancet's deadline.
Last November, Bahrain sentenced 23 health professionals to 3 months in prison on charges of illegally gathering during the 2011 protests amid widespread criticism of the Sunni Gulf Kingdom for failing to implement key reforms put forward by its own government-commissioned human rights report. Four other health professionals whose appeals were denied in October are in prison serving sentences ranging from 1—5 years.
Earlier this year, Tom Collins, president of the Medical University of Bahrain which is run by the RCSI, announced his resignation after the Bahraini Government did not give permission to hold a medical ethics conference organised by Médecins Sans Frontières. In a statement, RCSI said it would “continue to contribute to Bahrain through our focus on education” based on “internationally recognised principles”.
“As an international organisation, it is critical that RCSI helps build bridges rather than contribute to greater fracturing. We do this by being non-partisan and non-aligned. Our students in RCSI-Bahrain come from all ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds”, said RCSI. “We believe that the future for Bahrain has to be one of dialogue and reconciliation. Our own national story tells us that this will not be resolved quickly.”
Ó Cuinn said the Ceartas report drew attention to the human rights and other legal challenges of exporting medical education to unstable parts of the world. It was also the first to look comprehensively into the overlap of international human rights and standards in medical education, he noted.
“It highlights medical education as a vehicle for social change—a trend the World Federation on Medical Education has recently encouraged through the principle of social accountability”, he concludes.