Report finds over 4,000 attacks against health workers since 2016

A surgical operating theatre in a hospital at Ariha, in the Syrian province of Idlib, which was hit by an airstrike on January 30, 2020. Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Violence against health workers and facilities continues unabated with over 4,000 incidents reported in conflict zones over the past five years, a new Swiss-UK funded report reveals.

This content was published on May 5, 2021 - 17:46

On May 3, 2016, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on the protection of health care in conflict. Resolution 2286, supported by 80 states, included steps states could take to mitigate such attacks. Five years on, attacks against health facilities, workers and patients continue in conflict zones around the world.

A new reportExternal link published on Wednesday by the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition (SHCC), based on data collated from 2016-2020, found a total of 4,094 reported attacks and threats against health care in conflict. During this period, 1,524 health workers were injured, 681 health workers killed and 401 kidnapped. In 978 incidents health facilities were destroyed or damaged.

“The world has failed to make protecting the sick, the dying and injured a priority. Health care is at the forefront of current global attention, yet not enough is being done to protect health care workers and medical facilities," said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in a statementExternal link published on May 3.

Maciej Polkowski, the head of ICRC's Health Care in Danger Initiative, which seeks to ensure safe access to health care in armed conflict and other emergencies, talked of a “lack of political will and a crisis of imagination” when it comes to protecting health-care providers and patients.

“States wishing to see this agenda advance should lead by example," she said.

During the five-year period, more health workers were killed in Syria (243) than any other country, according to the data. Health workers were kidnapped most frequently in Nigeria (68).

More health facilities were destroyed or damaged in Syria (442 incidents) than anywhere else, while the Democratic Republic of Congo experienced the highest number of armed entries into health facilities (43). A total of 690 emergency medical responders were injured in the occupied Palestinian territories and 73 emergency medical responders were arrested in Sudan.

The numbers were compiled from credible media reports as well as reporting by intergovernmental organisations, states, non-governmental organisations, and aid agencies. But they are likely to represent “a significant undercount”, due to underreporting in many places around the world, SHCC said.

The Safeguarding Health in Conflict CoalitionExternal link is a group of international NGOs working to protect health workers, services, and infrastructure. The report and data collection were financed by Switzerland and the UK.

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