Deliberate attacks on health care

February 25, 2016


On February 15, a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported hospital in Idlib Province in northern Syria was destroyed in an attack. Some 25 people were killed – 9 of them staff members – and 11 wounded, among whom 10 staff members. According to surviving staff, the hospital in Ma’arat Al Numan was hit by four missiles in two attacks within a few minutes of each other. Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF’s Head of Mission, called the destruction a deliberate attack. 

There were also reports on the same day that other hospitals in rebel-held Syrian towns had been attacked. Deliberate attacks on health-care facilities are far from unique. In Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2015/2016, which was published this week, incidents in several countries have been described. The following examples are the conflict-ridden countries of Syria, Yemen and Sudan.


In Syria, government forces have continuously targeted health facilities and medical workers in areas controlled by armed opposition groups, the Amnesty report states. In 2015, they “repeatedly bombed hospitals and other medical facilities, barred or restricted the inclusion of medical supplies in humanitarian aid deliveries to besieged and hard-to-reach areas, and disrupted or prevented health care provision in these areas by detaining medical workers and volunteers.” Physicians for Human Rights accused government forces of systematically attacking the health care system in areas controlled by armed opposition groups and of responsibility for the deaths of the vast majority of the 697 medical workers killed in Syria between April 2011 and November 2015.


In Yemen, Huthi forces fighting the government attacked hospitals and medical workers, while the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervening in the conflict did the same. According to the Amnesty report, some coalition air strikes hit hospitals and other medical facilities in Sa’da governorate, injuring patients and medical workers. “On 26 October, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition destroyed a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) supported hospital in Hayden in Sa’da, injuring seven medical workers. MSF said that another of its clinics in Ta’iz was struck by coalition air strikes on 2 December, wounding nine people, including two MSF staff. On 4 September, coalition aircraft reportedly bombed al-Sh’ara hospital at Razih in Sa’da governorate. According to MSF personnel who visited the site soon after, there was no evidence that the hospital was used for military purposes. MSF said the attack killed six patients and injured others.”


Regarding Sudan, Amnesty International obtained evidence suggesting that government aircraft deliberately bombed hospitals and other humanitarian facilities. “Since 2011, the air force has bombed 26 health facilities (hospitals, clinics and health units). By 2015 there were only two hospitals operating to serve a population of 1.2 million people. A Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital was bombed in January: a Sudan Air Force fighter jet dropped 13 bombs, of which two landed inside the hospital compound and the others just outside the hospital fence.”

Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition

IFHHRO is a member of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition, a group of international nongovernmental organizations working to protect health workers, services, and infrastructure. The coalition has three main objectives:

  1. Raise awareness of the problem of attacks on health workers, facilities, transport systems, and clients
  2. Work with national and global organizations to strengthen the documentation of such attacks and increase accountability for violators
  3. Empower local groups to play a safe, active role in documenting attacks and demanding accountability at national and international level

Access Annual Report 2015/2016, Amnesty International, February 2016

More information on the work of the Health in Conflict coalition