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ICRC: Healthcare Systems, Workers, Patients Are Under Attack

Afghan men transport the body of one of three female media workers who were shot and killed by an unknown gunmen, at a hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, March 2, 2021.

Murder, rape and physical abuse are among the attacks that healthcare workers, the wounded and the sick have been subjected to in the five years since the United Nations Security Council adopted its first resolution on the protection of health care in conflict zones and demanded an end to impunity for such attacks.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement Monday that “health-care providers and patients have suffered through thousands of attacks on health care systems” since the resolution was adopted.

Medical facilities and medical transport vehicles have been looted and destroyed and health care services, such as vaccine campaigns, have also come under attack, the ICRC added.

The ICRC counted 3,780 attacks per year in an average of 33 countries between 2016 and 2020, the aid organization said in a statement. Two-thirds of the attacks, ICRC said, occurred in Africa and the Middle East, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and the occupied territories, and Syria. The count is likely higher than the ICRC tabulations, the organization said, because of the challenges of accumulating data in conflict zones.

The COVID pandemic has not slowed the attacks. The statement said between February and July 2020, ICRC “recorded 611 violent incidents against health-care workers, patients and medical infrastructure associated with the COVID-19 response, about 50 percent higher than average.”

“There is a lack of political will and a crisis of imagination when it comes to protecting health-care providers and patients,” said Maciej Polkowski, the head of ICRC’s Health Care in Danger Initiative, which works to ensure safe access to health care in armed conflict and other emergencies. “States wishing to see this agenda advance should lead by example.”

Filippo Gatto, ICRC’s head nurse, who once had a militant shove an AK-47 in his face, said people need to understand that healthcare workers are “there to treat everyone and anyone, white, red, blue, government or not government.” He added,” At a certain point it will also be your turn in need of medical care.”