UN resolution fails to protect health systems, ICRC data shows

A policeman keeps watch outside a hospital that came under attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by: Omar Sobhani / Reuters

The International Committee of the Red Cross recorded 3,780 attacks on health care providers and patients between 2016 and 2020. This included murder, rape, physical abuse, looting, and the destruction of medical facilities and transport vehicles. It also included the obstruction of health services, such as not allowing ambulances to pass through checkpoints.

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“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,” wrote Peter Maurer, president of ICRC, in a press release.

Thousands of attacks: In the past five years, the countries with the most incidents included Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Israel, and the occupied territories. ICRC pulled data from, on average, 33 countries per year where it operates. Two-thirds of these attacks and incidents took place in Africa and the Middle East. The organization thinks its figures underrepresent the problem.

Lack of political will: In 2016, the U.N. Security Council adopted its first resolution to protect health care systems in conflict. This resolution included steps countries could take to stop these attacks. But ICRC’s data shows this resolution has not been effective in preventing these attacks and according to the organization implementation of these measures is weak.

“There is a lack of political will and a crisis of imagination when it comes to protecting health care providers and patients,” said Maciek Polkowski, the head of ICRC’s Health Care in Danger Initiative.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a Global Health Reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.