Newsbrief, TerraViva United Nations

WHO Plans to Track Attacks on Health Workers in War Zones

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9 2015 (IPS) - A new system to collect data on attacks against health workers has been developed and will be available in 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced.

Concerned over the increasing frequency and severity of attacks on health workers, services and facilities, WHO highlighted the need to protect providers, especially in conflict and humanitarian settings.

The new tracking system will be the first standardized mechanism for data collection and reporting on such attacks. It also plans to use collected information to identify patterns and find ways to avoid attacks or mitigate their consequences.

“Protecting health care workers is one of the most pressing responsibilities of the international community,” said WHO’s Health Workforce department director Jim Campbell.

“Without health workers, there is no health care,” he continued.

Erin Kenney, who manages the WHO project that developed the new instrument, echoed similar sentiments, stating: “Every time a doctor is too afraid to come to work, or a hospital is bombed, or supplies are looted, it impedes access to health care.”

According to data from WHO, in 2014 alone, 603 health workers were killed and 958 were injured in attacks in 32 countries.

One such attack occurred on 3 Oct this year when U.S. airstrikes hit a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing at least 30 people including 14 health workers and 10 known patients.

“The attack on our hospital in Kunduz destroyed our ability to treat patients at a time when we were needed the most,” said MSF International President Joanne Liu at the release of an initial investigation.

“We need a clear commitment that the act of providing medical care will never make us a target,” she added.

More recently on 2 Dec, another MSF clinic in Yemen’s southern city of Taiz was bombed, injuring 2 MSF staff.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) also found that since 2012, almost 60 percent of hospitals in Syria have been partially or completely destroyed, and more than half of the country’s health workers have fled or been killed.

For instance, in Pakistan, 32 health care workers and personnel working to eradicate polio have been killed since 2012. However, after studying time patterns and switching from four-day vaccination campaigns to one-day campaigns, there have been fewer attacks and deaths.

“It’s being clever about the way we do things,” Kenney stated.

“We’re negotiating access routes so we can get people in and out, evacuate hospitals, and pre-position supplies so hospitals can be resilient,” she continued.

There has been more awareness concerning attacks on health workers.

In December 2014, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution recognizing that attacks on health care can result in long-last impacts including the weakening of health systems to deliver life-saving services and produce setbacks for health development. It called on member States and other stakeholders to ensure the safety of health personnel.

Since the Kunduz hospital attack, MSF has publicly urged for transparency and accountability for the events that unfolded in October 2015. On 9 Dec, the humanitarian organization delivered a petition with almost 550,000 signatories to the White House calling for an independent investigation of the deadly airstrikes.

Ahead of the 2016 release, WHO’s data collection system is currently being tested in the Central African Republic, Syria, and the Palestinian territories.

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