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We are living through very troubled times. As I write this article, discussions are taking place here in Geneva between the U.S. and Russian governments to determine how the chemical weapons stockpiled in Syria can be secured and put beyond use. This will protect citizens and care providers, and hopefully reduce the need for even more people to flee the country.

Simultaneously, nurses in Syria and in other countries in the Middle Eastern region are having real problems in being able to comply with their codes of conduct. This is not unique to Syria. Worryingly, in recent times ICN in collaboration with other organisations often has had to advocate for the rights of health workers to do their job (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0rzXeXhFXA).

This is a time for solidarity. Nurses and other health professionals must stand strong together, and speak out loudly and clearly with one voice. We are all bound by our codes of conduct and practice to provide care to those who are ill, injured or distressed. We are required to offer care not on the basis of colour, creed, religion or politics but on the basis of need. We must never forget this or we diminish our profession and undermine the social contract we have with citizens.

Continuing to deliver care in times of social unrest, war and ideological conflict is not easy. Often nurses and health professionals can be subject to great risk and violence. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has mobilised opinion on this issue and is closely monitoring the impact that events are having on the health professions. Their recent publications relating to Health Care in Danger not only seek to identify the scale of the problem but also offer pragmatic advice to health care workers who find themselves in the midst of armed conflicts and other emergencies.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has long recognized the seriousness of these issues, and we offer several relevant position statements. For example our position statement on the role of nurses during armed conflict clearly articulates the key points to be considered (ICN 2012a). However, we commend the ICRC for developing a text that provides a more detailed coverage of the issues (ICRC 2013). Their text not only provides a list of ‘musts’ but also a list of ‘should do if possible’. In addition it draws attention to the various international instruments that govern behaviour, offering succinct and easily understood synopses of these fundamental agreements.

For those of you who work in education, there is no doubt that the ICRC publication forms a valuable adjunct to the ICN Code of Ethics (ICN 2012b). It is therefore not surprising that ICRC and ICN have formalized their commitment to work jointly on this critical topic by developing a memorandum of understanding that explicitly highlights the work that both our organisations will do to defend the rights of health personnel. Both organisations understand the importance of the choice to pursue a career in healthcare. We are both determined to ensure that nurses and other health workers remain supported in upholding the tenets that underpin their profession.

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