In a report released Thursday, the World Health Organization found that about 1,000 people were killed in attacks on health-care facilities across 19 crisis-stricken countries in 2014 and 2015. What's more, 62 percent of those attacks were deliberate. In 19 percent of cases, intentionality could not be ascertained.
The WHO's data was drawn from online databases and simple Web searches, so the report isn't built on the strongest statistical foundation, but it is one of the first attempts at a comprehensive analysis of attacks on health-care facilities and workers, which is a war crime, if intentional, and is becoming more common.
“This is a huge problem. Attacks on health workers are not isolated, they are not accidental and they are not stopping,” said Bruce Aylward, the head of emergency response at WHO, told the Associated Press.
More than half of the attacks included in the report were against facilities, while a quarter were against health-care personnel themselves. There were 594 attacks in total, with 228 in Syria alone, representing 38 percent of the total. Although there were four times as many documented attacks in 2014 as 2015, both Syria and the Palestinian territories saw increases in 2015.
Hospital attacks in Syria have gained widespread attention since multiple facilities run by Doctors Without Borders, often referred to by its French initials MSF, were bombed in February and May, killing dozens. MSF says on its website that its facilities or those it supports in Syria were attacked 94 times in 2015, with 12 instances resulting in total destruction. Eighty-one medical staff at MSF-supported hospital were killed or wounded in Syria in 2015.
Two attacks on MSF hospitals in Yemen and Afghanistan also rocked the international community last year. On Oct. 3, U.S. forces bombed an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 44, including women and children. The U.S. military has claimed that mechanical and communication failures led to this grievous mistake, but a recent investigation by Matthieu Aikins for the New York Times Magazine raises the possibility that Afghan forces knowingly led the Americans into the attack out of spite for MSF, which they believed was harboring Taliban fighters.
Later that month, a Saudi-led airstrike destroyed an MSF hospital in Yemen, though all inside made it out alive.
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