WHO surveillance system for attacks on health care fails in Ethiopia

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Increased disregard for international law in armed conflict and humanitarian crises puts health facilities and health workers at risk has prompted global institutions to develop systematic monitoring mechanisms. In response, the World Health Assembly adopted WHA65.20,
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WHO
Speech by Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, to the Sixty-fourth World Health Assembly.

a resolution calling on the Director-General of WHO to “provide global leadership in developing methods for the systematic collection and dissemination of data on attacks on health facilities, health workers, health transport and patients in complex humanitarian emergencies, in coordination with other United Nations Agencies, other relevant actors and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations”.

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WHO
Speech by Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, to the Sixty-fourth World Health Assembly.

Following resolution WHA65.20 in 2015, WHO made the Attacks on Health Care initiative a priority in the WHO health emergencies agenda. The vision of the initiative is to provide essential and lifesaving health services to populations affected by an emergency without being hindered by any form of violence or obstruction. The Health Care Attacks (SSA) Surveillance System is one of the key outcomes of this initiative. Advocacy against attacks on health care and providing evidence on the effectiveness of practices to minimize attacks and mitigate the consequences of attacks are the two initiatives of the surveillance system. The SSA is supposed to systematically collect data on attacks on healthcare, and produce and publish the report online immediately after the event. This surveillance system would facilitate accountability through global health governance, improve visibility of SSA within WHO and across the UN, analyze data to support engagement with authors and strengthen the SSA as an effective mechanism to protect health and human rights. However, the WHO’s incompetence in carrying out its mandate on the issue potentially undermines efforts to engage with those attacking health facilities and weakens efforts to prevent future attacks.
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  • Meier BM
  • Rice H
  • Bandara S
Monitor attacks on health care as a basis to facilitate accountability for human rights violations.

A war has been going on in northern Ethiopia since the Tigray People’s Liberation Front attacked Ethiopian Federal Army bases in the Tigray region on November 4, 2021. The war has damaged and looted more than 40 hospitals, 453 health centers, 1850 health posts, four blood banks, an oxygen bank and the displacement of over 10,000 health workers in Amhara Regional State, serving over 30 million people.
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Ethiopian citizen
The TPLF destroys thousands of health facilities in Ethiopia in 5 months and the WHO is silent.

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Ethiopia Observer
More than 1,500 health facilities destroyed or damaged in Amhara and Afar: Ministry of Health.

In Afar Regional State, one hospital, 17 health centers and 42 health posts were attacked – their infrastructure, medical equipment and supplies were destroyed, looted and ransacked. The destruction left the regional public health system on the brink of collapse and left millions without access to basic health care services. Despite the destruction and looting of health facilities, pharmaceutical stores and outpatient services in the conflict regions, the WHO SSA has released no reports. Due to the WHO’s inaction, millions of people are at risk of health crises, which makes us wonder why the WHO did nothing.

We declare no competing interests.

The references

  1. 1.

    Speech by Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, to the Sixty-fourth World Health Assembly.

  2. 2.
    • Meier BM
    • Rice H
    • Bandara S

    Monitor attacks on health care as a basis to facilitate accountability for human rights violations.

    Health rights Hum. 2021; 23: 55-70

  3. 3.

    The TPLF destroys thousands of health facilities in Ethiopia in 5 months and the WHO is silent.

  4. 4.

    More than 1,500 health facilities destroyed or damaged in Amhara and Afar: Ministry of Health.

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