A grim milestone has been crossed today in the war in Ukraine – more than 100 attacks on health care verified by WHO since the start of the war on 24 February. The attacks so far have claimed 73 lives and injured 51.
Of the current total of 103 attacks, 89 have impacted health facilities and 13 have impacted transport, including ambulances.
“We are outraged that attacks on health care are continuing. Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, at a press conference. “Peace is the only way forward. I again call on the Russian Federation to stop the war.”
“It’s a truly sad irony that we are recording this milestone of over 100 attacks on health in Ukraine on World Health Day,” noted Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, who visited the humanitarian hub of Lviv in western Ukraine today. “I have been personally struck by the resilience and fortitude of health care providers and indeed of the health system itself in Ukraine. WHO has been working to ensure supply lines remain open to allow lifesaving health and medical supplies to reach cities and towns nationwide, and continued attacks on health make this effort all the more challenging.”
This milestone of over 100 attacks on health spans barely 42 days since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. The impact of this violence is not only immediate, in the numbers of deaths and injuries – but also long-term in the consequences for Ukraine’s health care system. It’s a major blow to the country’s efforts to institute health reforms and achieve universal health coverage, a goal it had made significant progress on before the war erupted.
“Across Ukraine, 1000 health facilities are in proximity to conflict areas or in changed areas of control,” explained Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine. “Health workers throughout the country are risking their lives to serve those in need of medical services, and they, and their patients, must never be targeted. Further, when people are prevented from seeking and accessing health care, either because the facilities have been destroyed or out of fear that they may become a target, they lose hope. The mental health toll wreaked by the war cannot be underestimated, affecting civilians and the health workforce alike.”
Attacks on health are unfortunately seen amid conflicts globally. Since 1 January 2022, WHO has verified 160 attacks on health care in 11 countries and territories resulting in 97 deaths and 74 injuries. Outside of Ukraine at this time, Sudan is also witnessing a recent increase in attacks on health care.
Notes to the editor
What’s the definition of an attack on health?
An attack on health care is any act of verbal or physical violence or obstruction or threat of violence that interferes with the availability, access and delivery of curative and/or preventive health services. Types of attacks vary across contexts and can range from physical violence, psychosocial threats and intimidation to use of heavy weaponry against healthcare facilities.
Attacks on health care include attacks on health facilities, transport, personnel, patients, supplies and warehouses.
What’s WHO’s role?
WHO has been tasked by WHA to monitor and disseminate reports on attacks on health (WHA Resolution 65.20).
Our Attacks on Health Care initiative aims to strengthen protection for health workers everywhere so they can provide healthcare in a safe environment without disruption from acts of violence. The initiative has three main pillars of work including (1) the systematic collection of data on attacks, (2) advocacy for preventing attacks, and for stopping them if they occur, and (3) the promotion of good practices and heightened awareness for protecting healthcare from attacks.
How does WHO carry out its role?
WHO’s Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care (SSA), launched in December 2017, is the main mechanism for collecting primary source data of attacks on healthcare in countries with complex humanitarian emergencies. Its methodology allows the cataloguing of attacks and provides data based on a level of certainty for each incident. The resulting information is then made publicly available.
Does WHO make other information on attacks on health care publicly available?
WHO does not share data beyond information published on the SSA dashboard, which has specific measures in place to protect the confidentiality of sources and to prevent any further harm to survivors of an attack and the affected community.
Does WHO investigate attacks on health care?
WHO is neither mandated nor equipped to investigate these attacks, including identification of the perpetrators. WHO’s role is to systematically collect and disseminate data on attacks. It does so by verifying that attacks on healthcare have occurred in order to highlight their extent and consequences. Other bodies within the United Nations system have the mandate to investigate attacks on healthcare and WHO cooperates with them.