Health Care in Danger: Collecting data on violence against health care is the first step in preventing it

27 November 2019

The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, the Spanish Medical Colleges Organization, the Spanish Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), will co-host a round-table in Madrid from 27 to 28 November to discuss existing national mechanisms for collecting data on violence against health care. Participants will share challenges and best practice.
Attacks against health-care facilities, personnel and ambulances – along with deliberate obstruction of efforts by the wounded to get help – are common in conflict zones throughout the world.

More than 1,200 incidents of violence against the medical mission were recorded by the ICRC in 16 places around the world between 2015 and 2017. We record these incidents as part of our protection work, and most of them end up being discussed with the parties to the conflict. Numerically speaking, however, they are only the tip of the iceberg.

Worldwide, research into violence against health-care workers reveals that 15–97% have been subjected to violence. In Spain alone, for example, a total of 490 attacks against doctors were reported to the Spanish Medical Colleges Organization in 2018.
National data-collection mechanisms are the best way to acquire in-depth knowledge and analyse violence against health care. It is therefore necessary to further explore the potential for technical exchange between different countries.

Better data-collection mechanisms are required worldwide to fully understand the magnitude of the problem, its causes and the breadth of its impact. Only then can informed decisions be made as to how to prevent and address incidents of violence or attacks against health care.

On 3 May 2016, the United Nations Security Council adopted a landmark resolution on the protection of medical services in situations of armed conflict. Drafted and negotiated by Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Spain and Uruguay, Resolution 2286 strongly condemns violence against healthcare providers and their patients and "strongly urges States [...] to develop effective measures to prevent and address" such violence, including through "the collection of data on obstruction, threats and physical attacks on medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and medical facilities, and to share challenges and good practice in this regard" (S/RES/2286, Operational Paragraph 4). In his recommendations for implementing the resolution, the UN Secretary-General enjoins States to "establish national data collection and analysis systems" and "actively engage in and support the regular sharing of analysis and lessons learned at the regional and international levels" (S/2016/722, Rec. 10).

International humanitarian law protects health-care personnel, facilities and vehicles precisely because they are indispensable in times of conflict and violence. Even wars have limits.

As part of the Health Care in Danger (HCiD) initiative, the ICRC seeks to foster partnerships between key stakeholders, or communities of concern, involved in preventing and addressing violence against health care. One area we focus on is the sharing of best practice on data-collection mechanisms and analytical methodologies for monitoring incidents and their impact. The Peer-to-Peer Round-table on National Data-Collection Systems to Measure and Analyse Violence against Health Care co-organized by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Spanish Medical Colleges Organization, the Spanish Red Cross and the ICRC, will bring together 20–25 high-level participants from all over the world with the aim of better understanding the scope and nature of this form of violence that affects every continent.