Last week, a series of airstrikes destroyed Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo, killing 50 people, including at least 29 women and children. This was just the latest nauseating attack on health facilities not just in Syria but in conflict zones around the world. The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition documented such attacks in 19 countries in 2015. Some of these attacks were caused by error, negligence, or recklessness, but many were intentional, designed to harm or punish the civilian population.
Today, the United Nations Security Council condemned these kinds of attacks, reiterating a fundamental principle of the laws of war – that health facilities and medical workers must be protected from attack in armed conflict. It called on countries to take steps to prevent such attacks, investigate them when they happen, and prosecute perpetrators when appropriate.
The Security Council action is important. In recent years, attacks on health facilities have become so common in conflict zones that they threatened to become viewed as a “normal” part of war. While the attack on the Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo made the front pages, many of these incidents are no longer considered newsworthy enough to even be reported.
Yet, the consequences are devastating. These attacks not only kill and maim many people, including health workers, their patients, and families, they shut down and prompt an exodus of desperately needed medical personnel. In Yemen, where warring parties on both sides have disregarded the protected status of health facilities, nearly 600 health facilities are no longer functional because of damage or lack of health workers, supplies or electricity. In Aleppo, the Al Quds attack reportedly killed the city’s sole remaining pediatrician. This leaves already vulnerable civilian populations without basic health services, such as prenatal, maternal, infant, and newborn care, and surgical care for wartime injuries and other needed procedures.
Now it’s up to UN member countries and parties to conflicts around the world to implement the Security Council resolution. They should end attacks on health facilities and medical workers and bring those responsible for such attacks to justice.