Attacks on Health Care

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The Challenge

In many conflict-affected countries throughout the world, hospitals, and health care are being systematically attacked as objects of war. A report released in May 2016 by the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition documented that targeted attacks against hospitals and healthcare had been carried out in at least 19 countries throughout the world between January 2015 and March 2016. The Secretary General’s annual report on children and armed conflict released in June 2016 reported significant increases in attacks on hospitals and health care in 2015 in a wide range of countries, including Afghanistan, Yemen, and the State of Palestine. In these and many other countries, parties to conflict have bombed, looted, occupied, and temporarily or permanently closed hundreds of health facilities; shot at and stolen ambulances; threatened or forcibly detained health care workers; and denied passage at checkpoints to persons either attempting to reach hospitals to receive lifesaving treatment or deliver essential medicines and supplies. Attacks on health care compound challenges to children’s health, already exacerbated by weeks, months, and in some cases years of armed conflict.

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Our Approach

In 2017 and 2018, Watchlist will publish a series of reports (“Field Monitors”) thematically focused on attacks on hospitals and health care and the impact of these attacks on children in situations of armed conflict. It is hoped that this series of reports examining incidents and impacts of attacks will help to strengthen efforts to prevent attacks, protect and respond to them when they occur, and hold perpetrators to account.


Ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and increased targeting of health care workers and facilities by parties to the conflict has further eroded Afghanistan’s already fragile health care system. Health care facilities have closed, medical personnel have fled, and as a result thousands of civilians, primarily women and children, have lacked access to medical care. Both war wounded persons and those requiring routine care have had to travel increasingly long distances, often on insecure roads, to access basic and specialized health care. Delays in treatment have resulted in further complications to injuries or illnesses.


Months of continued conflict and direct targeting of health care facilities by parties to the conflict have led to the near total collapse of Yemen’s health care system. Hundreds of health care facilities have been bombed, resulting in partial or complete closure; thousands of medical personnel have fled; and tens of thousands of civilians, primarily women and children, have lacked access to medical care. As a result of fuel shortages, generators that are utilized to provide electricity to most hospitals have in many cases not been able to run. Without electricity, vaccinations requiring refrigeration have been ruined, ventilators for newborns have stopped functioning, and physicians have performed surgery on war-wounded patients by flashlight.

South Sudan

The ongoing civil war in South Sudan and the targeting of medical facilities and personnel and denial of humanitarian access by parties to the conflict has led to the near collapse of the country’s nascent health care system. Parties to the conflict have looted health care facilities, resulting in partial or complete closure; detained or abducted health or humanitarian workers; and routinely prevented humanitarian organizations from accessing civilian populations. Lack of access to health and humanitarian aid, despite skyrocketing needs has resulted in widespread outbreaks of public health epidemics including famine and cholera.

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