Hospitals, health care workers and ambulances are increasingly
targeted in conflicts from Libya to Somalia, depriving millions of
sick and wounded of treatment, the International Committee of the
Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.
The independent aid agency, which
delivers vital supplies and collects the wounded and dead from
battlefields, called for a halt to deadly assaults on medical
facilities and personnel.
“Hospitals in Sri Lanka and Somalia
have been shelled, ambulances in Libya shot at, paramedics in
Colombia killed and wounded people in Afghanistan forced to
languish for hours in vehicles held up at checkpoints,” Yves
Daccord, ICRC director-general is quoted by Reuters news agency.
The ICRC has documented security
incidents in 16 countries that disrupted delivery of health care,
many of them deliberate attacks violating international
humanitarian law, according to its report “Health Care in Danger:
Making the Case”.
“The most shocking finding is that
people die in large numbers not because they are direct victims of
a roadside bomb or a shooting,” said Dr. Robin Coupland, who led
“They die because the ambulance does
not get there in time, because health personnel are prevented from
doing their work, because hospitals are themselves targets of
attacks or simply because the environment is too dangerous for
effective health care to be delivered,” Reuters quoted the British war
The violence, often accompanied by
looting, means doctors and nurses leave their jobs, hospitals run
out of drugs or fuel to run generators and vaccination campaigns
grind to a halt.
“In conflicts all over the world,
combatants overlook their responsibility to care for civilians
caught in the crossfire. Invariably, it is relatives and neighbors
who bring civilian casualties to hospital,” it said.
Hospitals have been used to store
weapons or launch attacks, contravening the principle that they
should be neutral and provide care to all patients, the report
Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and
Somalia have suffered some of the worst attacks against medical
centers and staff, it said.
The Arab Spring has brought fresh
abuses, according to the ICRC, whose officials run mobile clinics,
perform war surgery and negotiate safe passage for ambulances
“In recent unrest in Bahrain, Syria
and Yemen, protesters have been too afraid to use medical
facilities for fear their wounds will identify them and provoke
harsh reprisals,” it said.