A new report from the World Health Organization says nearly 1,000 health care workers have been killed and more than 1,500 wounded in 19 countries with emergencies and that many of the incidents were intentional.
This first effort to consolidate and analyze data on attacks on health care in emergency settings around the world sheds light on the severity and frequency of the problem. The findings show widespread violations of international humanitarian law, which, if proven, could amount to war crimes.
Rick Brennan, director of the WHO's Department of Emergency and Risk Management, said the figures presented in the report are startling. He said they indicate the devastating impact that attacks against health workers have on communities.
"Every attack on health care disrupts the delivery of health services and denies communities access to essential health services in emergencies at the time that they really need them most," he said. "Perhaps one of the most concerning findings of the report is that close to two-thirds of the attacks on health care, on health facilities, on health workers, on ambulances, on patients have been deliberate."
The report says Syria had the most reported attacks on health care each year, twice as many as any other country or territory in 2014 and nearly four times as many in 2015. Syria is followed by the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Ukraine and Central African Republic in the rankings of the 19 countries surveyed.
According to the report, the Central African Republic is the only country where attacks against health care have gone down. The report attributes the drop to successful interventions by the International Committee of the Red Cross with armed groups in that country.
The report's author, Erin Kenney, said attacks that hinder the delivery of preventive or curative health services occur in many emergency settings, not just in situations of conflict.
"That is everything from the Ebola health care workers who were killed in Guinea ... the … polio workers who are attacked during vaccination," he said. "So, the bombings we see are the things that get the most visibility and the most press probably. The attacks we have in this report … include looting, arson, kidnapping, torture, execution."
While this report documents attacks against health care in 2014 and 2015, the World Health Organization says the horror persists. Over the past couple of months, it notes a number of hospitals and health facilities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere have been hit with a heavy loss of life.