A grim milestone was crossed Thursday in the war in Ukraine – more than 100 attacks on health care verified by WHO since the start of the war on 24 February. The attacks so far have claimed 73 lives and injured 51.
Of the current total of 103 attacks, 89 have impacted health facilities and 13 have impacted transport, including ambulances.
“We are outraged that attacks on health care are continuing. Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, at a press conference. “Peace is the only way forward. I again call on the Russian Federation to stop the war.”
“It’s a truly sad irony that we are recording this milestone of over 100 attacks on health in Ukraine on World Health Day,” noted Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, who visited the humanitarian hub of Lviv in western Ukraine today. “I have been personally struck by the resilience and fortitude of health care providers and indeed of the health system itself in Ukraine. WHO has been working to ensure supply lines remain open to allow lifesaving health and medical supplies to reach cities and towns nationwide, and continued attacks on health make this effort all the more challenging.”
This milestone of over 100 attacks on health spans barely 42 days since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. The impact of this violence is not only immediate, in the numbers of deaths and injuries – but also long-term in the consequences for Ukraine’s health care system. It’s a major blow to the country’s efforts to institute health reforms and achieve universal health coverage, a goal it had made significant progress on before the war erupted.
“Across Ukraine, 1000 health facilities are in proximity to conflict areas or in changed areas of control,” explained Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine. “Health workers throughout the country are risking their lives to serve those in need of medical services, and they, and their patients, must never be targeted. Further, when people are prevented from seeking and accessing health care, either because the facilities have been destroyed or out of fear that they may become a target, they lose hope. The mental health toll wreaked by the war cannot be underestimated, affecting civilians and the health workforce alike.”
Attacks on health are unfortunately seen amid conflicts globally. Since 1 January 2022, WHO has verified 160 attacks on health care in 11 countries and territories resulting in 97 deaths and 74 injuries. Outside of Ukraine at this time, Sudan is also witnessing a recent increase in attacks on health care.