Triple risk of harm for Ukraine’s health transport workers over other health-care staff, WHO data indicates

Kyiv, Ukraine, 4 April 2024 – A concerning new trend has emerged from the WHO Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care (SSA) in Ukraine: Ambulance workers and other personnel servicing health transport face a risk of injury and death 3 times higher than that of other health-care service workers.

“Many emergency teams come under fire either on the way to a call or at their bases. 4 of our employees have already been killed and 12 people were injured and hospitalized,” said Halyna Saldan, Head of the Centre for Emergency Medical Care and Disaster Medicine of Kherson Regional State Administration.

Out of the 68 attacks verified by WHO during the first quarter of 2024, some 12 of them – almost 20% – targeted Emergency Medical Services, including 9 attacks targeting emergency medical aid base stations, 7 attacks resulting in damage to ambulances, and 6 attacks affecting assets and emergency medical aid equipment.

In 3 of these 12 attacks, 4 health workers were injured and 2 health professionals were killed, marking a casualty rate nearly 3 times higher than in other health-care services during the same period.

The attacks pose significant dangers to both health-care workers and patients.
“This is a horrifying pattern,” acknowledged Dr Emanuele Bruni, WHO Incident Manager in Ukraine. “Emergency health-care workers and services are dedicated to helping people in critical situations and must be protected in all circumstances. These attacks threaten their safety and further devastate communities that have been living under constant shelling for more than 2 years.”

The first months of 2024 have witnessed a concerning escalation in the number of attacks, with nearly 1 attack per day in the months of January and March, mostly with the use of heavy weaponry.

“This grim number underscores the pressure on the Ukrainian health-care system,” stated Dr Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine. “WHO urgently reiterates its calls for the protection of health-care workers and patients, as well as the uninterrupted delivery of essential health services.”

Since the invasion by the Russian Federation in February 2022, WHO has verified 1682 attacks on health care in Ukraine, resulting in 128 deaths and 288 injuries of medical personnel and patients. WHO defines an attack on health care as any act of verbal or physical violence, obstruction or threat of violence that interferes with the availability, access and delivery of curative and/or preventive health services during emergencies. This can range from harm caused by heavy weapons to psychosocial threats and intimidation that affect access to health care for those in need.

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