The World Health Organization says more than 700 health care workers and patients were killed, more than 2,000 injured, and hundreds of health facilities destroyed in countries of conflict between 2018 and 2020.
A three-year analysis was carried out in 17 conflict-ridden countries and territories, including Ethiopia, Yemen, Syria, Mozambique, the occupied Palestinian territories, and Myanmar.
New data show that health care continues to be under attack. So far this year, the World Health Organization has recorded 588 incidents in 14 countries with emergencies, causing 114 deaths and 278 injuries of health care workers and patients.
The WHO’s director of health emergencies interventions, Altaf Musani, says the impact of those health care attacks goes well beyond claiming lives. He says the ramifications are significant and alarming, especially considering the ongoing COVID-19 response.
"Their impact reverberates on health care workers’ mental health and willingness to report to work, equally, on communities’ willingness to seek health care, and also drastically reduces resources for responding to a health crisis, amongst others,” Musani said.
Musani says the ripple effect of a single incident is huge and has a long-lasting impact on the system at large. When health facilities are destroyed, he says, they need to be rebuilt.
When health care workers are killed or wounded, he says a vital work force must be reinforced. Building back those vital systems, he says, requires years of costly investment, years in which people in need are underserved.
“During the pandemic, more than ever, health care workers must be protected, must be respected,” Musani said. "Hospitals and health care facilities, including the transportation of ambulances should not be used for military purposes. Essential conditions for the continued delivery of vital health care must be given the necessary space.”
Musani notes any reduction in capacity will interrupt services and deprive vulnerable communities of urgent care.
The WHO is calling on all parties in conflicts to ensure safe working spaces for the delivery of health care services. It says people caught in emergency situations must be able to safely access care, free from violence, threat, or fear.