Wednesday, February 21, 2024, 5:28 PM
Course: War and Health (War and Health)
Glossary: Medical Peace Work Glossary


Unselfish concern for the welfare of others.


Tangible and intangible goods, states of being and relationships on which people depend for survival. 


Civil society

The United Nations defines civil society as “associations of citizens (outside their families, friends and businesses) entered into voluntarily to advance their interests, ideas and ideologies. The term does not include profit-making activity (the private sector) or governing (the public sector)”.

Civil society might therefore include labour unions, faith-based groups, business and professional associations, academic and research institutions, human rights networks, consumer rights coalitions, social movements, social and sports clubs, philanthropic foundations, and other forms of ‘associational life’. 

Codes of conduct

The moral principles that are implicit or explicit in (inter-) national codes and which reflect good clinical practice. 


Perception of incompatible goals in a goal-seeking system. Conflict is not necessarily violent. In fact, parties who have incompatible goals may deal with them in productive and non-violent ways. 

Contemporary conflict

The prevailing pattern of social and political conflicts at the beginning of the 21st century. 

Cultural Violence

Cultural violence refers to those parts of religion, ideology, language, art, science, or cosmology which justify and legitimise the use of direct or structural violence (J. Galtung). 



Form of government characterised by elections, majority rule, representation in parliamentary bodies, the rule of law. 


Alan Thomas says that the term development is commonly used in three ways: as a vision of how we would like the world to be; to describe a process of historical change; and to mean the actual interventions of governments, international agencies and others make to bring development about. 

Direct violence

A deliberate act or omission, acute or chronic, causing a reduction in the physical, mental or social potential of beings (J. Galtung). 



The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. 

Health System

The World Health Organisation defines a health system as “all the activities whose primary purpose is to promote, restore or maintain health”. The functions of a health system has been defined in a more detailed way by Maureen Mackintosh and Meri Koivusalo. At the core are health services, but these are complemented by public health functions (surveillance, prevention, cross-sectoral action and emergency preparedness); systems for training the people needed to staff the system (medical and nursing schools etc); and policy, ethical and regulatory decision-making bodies which direct the health systems and the people in them. 

Humanitarian aid

Aid which is concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare. 



In the context of humanitarian aid, this refers to assistance that is ‘guided solely’ by the needs of individuals. 


In the context of humanitarian aid this has been defined by Joanna Macrae as the ‘endeavour not to act as instruments of government foreign policy’. 


Inequalities represent disparities in income, health, education, ownership of land, access to power and so on. Some inequalities are unavoidable: not all of us have the genetic make-up that will help us run the 100 metres as fast as Olympic sprinters. But many inequalities, such as those listed above, can be avoided. These avoidable inequalities are sometimes called inequities. 


Inequities are inequalities that can be avoided through directed human action, most notably the application of government policy. 



Landmines are conventional weapons used in wars to stop military opponents from encroaching into territory. There are between 600 and 700 different types of landmines that are produced in 60 countries. Examples include blast mines and fragmentation mines.

In terms of their effects two types of landmines can be distinguished. Anti-personnel mines are directed against persons and are activated by contact, proximity or presence of a victim. Anti-vehicle-mines, on the other hand, are directed against any kind of vehicle. 



Morbidity means illness or disease. Measures of morbidity such as the prevalence of chronic diseases can be used, among other measures, to help understand the health of a population. 


Mortality means death. Measures of rates of mortality such as life expectancy and infant mortality can be used, among other measures, to help understand the health of a population. 


Negative Peace

The absence of direct, structural and cultural violence (J. Galtung). 

Non-governmental organisation (NGO)

The United Nations defines non-governmental organisations as “All organisations [...] that are not central governments and were not created by intergovernmental decision, including associations of businesses, parliamentarians and local authorities”.

In the context of medical peace work you will encounter NGOs such as such as Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as Oxfam, Save the Children and a host of nationally-based humanitarian and development NGOs. 


Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

A philosophical and pedagogical tool that encourages human connection and strengthens people’s capacity to speak and listen with empathy. 

Nuclear weapons

A weapon whose explosive power results from a nuclear reaction. This reaction results in the release of an immense amount of energy in the form of an explosion, many times greater than that of conventional explosives. 



Not merely the absence of violence, but a state of mutual beneficial relationships, fair structures, and a culture of peace. Peace is also a capacity to handle conflicts with empathy, creativity and by non-violent means (J. Galtung). 

Positive peace

Not merely the absence of violence (negative peace), but constructive handling of conflict, the building up of peaceful structures and a culture of peace (J. Galtung). 



Repair of broken relationships and the restoration of peaceful relationships. 


A person who, owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. 

Right to health

The right to health or – more precisely – the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health is established in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Measures states should take to fulfill the right are laid down in Article 12 and have been further elaborated in General Comments by the treaty‘s monitoring committee. The right to health is subject to the principle of progressive realisation outlined in the Covenant. 


Second world war

Armed conflict beginning in September 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany (although Japan had invaded China in 1937). It became a ‘world war’ in a truer sense in 1941 after the bombardment of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese and the consequent declaration of war by the US on Japan and Germany. Although in terms of the percentage of soldiers killed it was a less bloody war than the first world war, the total sum of the dead – approximately 40 million – was devastating. For the first time in history in a major war the civilian dead outnumbered those within the fighting forces. The war is also infamous for Nazi Germany’s medical experiments on human beings, and its sterilisation and so-called ‘euthanasia’ programmes. 

Self-directed violence

Self-directed violence includes acts of self-abuse (such as self-mutilation) and suicidial behaviour (thoughts and attempts). 

Structural violence

Structural violence refers to socio-economic and political processes which violate basic human needs (J. Galtung). 


United Nations General Assembly

From the UN website: established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly occupies a central position as the chief deliberative, policy-making and representative organ of the United Nations. Comprising all 192 Members of the United Nations, it provides a forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter. It also plays a significant role in the process of standard-setting and the codification of international law. The Assembly meets in regular session intensively from September to December each year, and thereafter as required. 


Vietnam war

The Vietnam war might best be seen as part of the cold war and anti-colonial battles which convulsed south-east Asia in the period after second world war. After the defeat of Vietnam’s French colonisers by
the Viet Minh forces at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the country was split into a communist-ruled North and a capitalist south. The south was supported by the United States. The Americans feared that – in the wake of the Chinese revolution – the fall of south Vietnam would lead to a communist takeover of all countries in south-east Asia (the ‘domino theory’).

American interference in Vietnam led to armed conflict with the communist-ruled North throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The war extended to neighbouring countries. The war ended in 1975 when American troops were expelled from the southern Vietnamese city of Saigon. Around 50,000 American soldiers had died; Vietnamese dead are estimated at one million. 


Unnecessary insult of basic human needs (J. Galtung). 

Violent conflict

The use of physical and psychological force or power to ‘solve’ a conflict. 



Extreme form of violence. Used as a means to solve conflicts between nation states, or between groups within a nation state (civil war).