Armed conflict and public health: into the 21st century

J Public Health (Oxf). 2020 Aug 18;42(3):e287-e298. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdz095.


Background: Many people worldwide are affected by conflict, and countries affected are less likely to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This review outlines the effects of conflict on health and focuses on areas requiring more attention.

Methods: We completed a search of the literature using Medline, Embase and Global Health.

Results: Health effects of conflict include trauma; mental health; non-communicable diseases (NCDs); child health; sexual, reproductive and maternal health; and infectious diseases. Conflict damages health directly through fighting, and indirectly through wider socioeconomic effects. Health outcomes are influenced by pre-existing population health and demographics, and access to appropriate healthcare. Vulnerable populations (the elderly, children, neonates and women) are especially at risk.

Conclusion: Several areas pose key challenges including: tactics of war as a public health problem; a lack of focus on neonatal care and NCDs; the long-term consequences of conflict across a life-course and into future generations; and the need to focus on wellbeing beyond standard health parameters. Clear decisions about prioritisation need to be made. The effects on civilians must be documented and recorded. Further research is required to understand chronic health needs and effects on future generations, to support fair and equitable resource prioritisation to best meet the needs of conflict-affected populations.

Keywords: public health; social determinants; war.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Armed Conflicts
  • Child
  • Child Health
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Public Health*