The Issue

A humanitarian issue of critical concern

It is when fighting breaks out that health-care services are most needed, but it is also then that they are most vulnerable to attack. Doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers and paramedics, hospitals and health centres and even the wounded and the sick have all come under attack.

This violence can disrupt the health-care system when people need it the most. Combatants and civilians die only because they are prevented from receiving medical attention in time. Entire communities are cut off from vital services, such as maternity care, child care and vaccinations. Sometimes the disruption can be so severe that the entire system collapses.

Violence against health-care workers, facilities and vehicles, therefore, is a humanitarian issue with widespread and long-term effects. We need to address it together.

Health Care in Danger: The Human Cost. Through the voices of doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and patients, this film shows the human cost of violence against health-care workers and facilities. 

The many forms of violence

The ICRC, through research and work in the field, has identified a number of issues requiring particular attention, such as the vulnerability of health-care facilities to attacks and looting, the number of attacks on local health-care providers (which accounts for over 90% of incidents recorded by the ICRC) and the frequent violation of ethical principles of medical staff, in particular medical confidentiality and non-discrimination between patients.

Understanding violence against health care is crucial. It involves looking at the different forms that this can take, and who the targets and who the perpetrators are. Only then can effective measures be put in place to ensure that wounded and sick people have access to health care and that the facilities and personnel to treat them are available, adequately supplied with medicines and equipment and are safe.

Violence includes bombing, shelling,looting, forced entry, shooting into, encircling or other forceful interference with the running of health-care facilities (such as depriving them of electricity and water).

Health-care facilities include hospitals, laboratories, clinics, first-aid posts, blood transfusion centres, and the medical and pharmaceutical stores of these facilities.