Attacks on health staff and centres "are not an accident"

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Dr Rick Brennan presented the WHO report indicating that Syria saw twice as many attacks on health care in 2014 as other countries and nearly four times as many in 2015. Photo: UN Photo/Daniel Johnson

Medical workers around the world faced close to 600 attacks which caused more than 900 deaths in 2014 and 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

The findings are revealed in the first report of its kind by the UN agency and are drawn from just 19 countries where data is available.

One of the most worrying findings is that much of the violence faced by healthworkers appears to have been deliberate.

Here's Daniel Johnson in Geneva.

In what is the WHO's first assessment of attacks on medical workers and health centres in emergencies, Syria emerges as by far the most dangerous place to provide clinical care.

With nearly 230 reported incidents, Syria has been in fact around four times more lethal for health providers than the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Iraq and Pakistan.

The report draws on available data covering 19 countries that also include Yemen and Ukraine, where there were 22 and 32 known attacks respectively.

In addition to showing a growing level of violence against healthcare providers, WHO's Dr Rick Brennan says the report reveals something much more disturbing.

"Perhaps one of the most concerning findings of the report is that close to two-thirds of the attacks on healthcare, on health facilities, on healthworkers, on ambulances, on patients have been deliberate."

This kind of aggression on healthcare facilities, the sick and vulnerable is prohibited by the rules of war that are enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, and WHO says it represents a gross violation of international humanitarian law.

What the data does not show, WHO insists, is the wider impact the attacks have on communities, whose children still need vaccinating and whose pregnant women are denied expert medical help.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1'12" 

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