Health facilities ‘becoming a target in war’ – WHO
Healthcare facilities are becoming a “target” of war, the World Health Organisation has said.
The global health body warned that the health system in Ukraine is “teetering on the brink” and needs to be supported.
But it added that emergency medical teams could not be deployed when health infrastructure was under attack.
It health body said that in the first part of 2022 it had seen the highest ever rate of attacks on healthcare around the globe, contrary to international law.
Health is becoming a target in these situations , it’s becoming part of the strategy and tactics of war. This is entirely unacceptable Dr Mike Ryan
The WHO verified 89 attacks on health in the first 75 days of 2022 – including 43 attacks in Ukraine.
Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said that health is “becoming part of the strategy and tactics of war”.
In a passionate speech during a WHO press conference, Dr Ryan said: “We are only a very short part into this year and globally we have never seen this rate of attacks on healthcare.
“Health is becoming a target in these situations, it’s becoming part of the strategy and tactics of war.
“This is entirely unacceptable.
“It is against international humanitarian law, and in fact under international humanitarian law conflicting parties are actually instructed to specifically take measures to avoid attacking or inadvertently destroying or hurting health workers or health facilities.
“They actually bear responsibility to ensure that they don’t attack those facilities, to identify and deconflict those facilities and to ensure that they do not, as part of their prosecution of war, attack those facilities.
“So it is not only against international humanitarian law to carry out attacks like this. It is actually in the responsibility of all parties in conflict to do so.”
He added: “We are working very hard with many partners to get emergency medical teams on the ground.
“But how can we put emergency medical teams on the ground if the very facilities that they may want to go on support are going to be attacked, and going to be bombed, and going to go into suffer catastrophic damage?
“The health system in Ukraine is teetering on the brink, it is doing exceptionally well, but it needs to be supported, it needs to be shored up, it needs to be given the basic tools to save lives.
“Part of that is deploying teams in to support that – but how can you do that in all conscience if the very infrastructure that those people will go into support is being under direct attack?”
He added: “This issue is more important than bricks and mortar. This isn’t just about the destruction of buildings.
“This is about the destruction of hope.
“This is about taking away the very thing that gives people the reason to live – the fact that their families can be taken care of, that they can be cured if they’re sick, that they can be treated if they’re injured.
“This is this is the most basic of human rights, and it has been directly denied to people
“And we are then in a position where we can send assistance to those people because the very act of attacking those facilities, or not taking care to avoid those facilities, means we cannot send the appropriate help when needed.”
As well as the 43 attacks in Ukraine, the WHO has verified attacks in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Nigeria, Palestine, Sudan and Syria.
The 89 separate attacks have injured 53 people and killed 35, including health workers, the WHO said.
The WHO’s director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Attacks on health care not only endanger lives, they deprive people of urgently-needed care and break already-strained health systems.”
On the situation in Ukraine he added: “We continue to call for attacks on health care to stop.
“More than 300 health facilities are along conflict lines or in areas that Russia now controls, and a further 600 facilities are within 10 kilometres of the conflict line.
“Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, WHO has verified 43 attacks on health care.
“The WHO condemns all attacks on health care, wherever they occur.”
The situation unfolding in Mariupol is horrific, and if patients and staff are indeed being held hostage in such a way this is utterly reprehensible Dr David Wrigley, BMA
Meanwhile the British Medical Association (BMA) commented on reports that patients and hospital staff in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol have been taken hostage.
Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair, said: “The situation unfolding in Mariupol is horrific, and if patients and staff are indeed being held hostage in such a way this is utterly reprehensible.
“It is the latest account accusing Russian forces of deliberately targeting healthcare facilities, staff and patients – which, if verified, would represent a contravention of international humanitarian law.
“We cannot begin to understand the terror, fear and anguish that the people of Mariupol are experiencing as their city comes under attack, especially those patients and staff who are reportedly trapped in the hospital.
“The BMA continues to condemn this invasion and the suffering being inflicted upon the people of Ukraine, and we demand once again that Russia’s military respects medical neutrality and international humanitarian law – medical facilities and staff must be free to continue to provide care to patients, free from fear of attack.”