In the ongoing conflicts of Syria and Yemen, there have been widespread reports of attacks on health care facilities and personnel. Tabulated evidence does suggest hospital bombings in Syria and Yemen are far higher than reported in other conflicts but it is unclear if this is a reporting artefact.
This article examines attacks on health care facilities in conflicts in six middle- to high- income countries that have occurred over the past three decades to try and determine if attacks have become more common, and to assess the different methods used to collect data on attacks. The six conflicts reviewed are Yemen (2015-Present), Syria (2011- Present), Iraq (2003-2011), Chechnya (1999-2000), Kosovo (1998-1999), and Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995).
We attempted to get the highest quality source(s) with summary data of the number of facilities attacked for each of the conflicts. The only conflict that did not have summary data was the conflict in Iraq. In this case, we tallied individual reported events of attacks on health care.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) reported attacks on 315 facilities (4.38 per month) in Syria over a 7-year period, while the Monitoring Violence against Health Care (MVH) tool launched later by the World Health Organization (WHO) Turkey Health Cluster reported attacks on 135 facilities (9.64 per month) over a 14-month period. Yemen had a reported 93 attacks (4.65 per month), Iraq 12 (0.12 per month), Chechnya > 24 (2.4 per month), Kosovo > 100 (6.67 per month), and Bosnia 21 (0.41 per month). Methodologies to collect data, and definitions of both facilities and attacks varied widely across sources.
The number of reported facilities attacked is by far the greatest in Syria, suggesting that this phenomenon has increased compared to earlier conflicts. However, data on attacks of facilities was incomplete for all of the conflicts examined, methodologies varied widely, and in some cases, attacks were not defined at all. A global, standardized system that allows multiple reporting routes with different levels of confirmation, as seen in Syria, would likely allow for a more reliable and reproducible documentation system, and potentially, an increase in accountability.