Health workers, including physicians and nurses, are trained to respond to those in need without prejudice or discrimination. The principle of medical neutrality exists to protect health workers and facilities from attacks or misuse in times of armed conflict as physicians, nurses, and others respond to the sick and wounded, regardless of political affiliations. To violate the principle of medical neutrality is considered a crime by the Geneva Conventions. However, serious violations of medical neutrality are occurring far too often in today’s world.
In Syria, a conflict between government and rebel forces beginning in 2011 has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history. To date, nearly 600 health care facilities have been attacked. Since 2016, 480 individuals have died in these attacks, and 968 have been injured.
In the midst of an ever worsening humanitarian crisis plagued by food insecurity and cholera, attacks on health care facilities and workers have continued in Yemen, with an estimated 50% of health facilities in the country being out of service or only partially functioning. From March 2015 to December 2018, there have been an estimated 120 attacks killing at least 96 civilians and health workers and wounding 230 others.
In Turkey, Turkish Human Rights Foundation representative Dr. Serdar Küni was arrested and detained for treating alleged members of the anti-government Kurdish armed groups.
In Iran, authorities detained brother physicians Drs. Alaei without charge for their work in the field of HIV/AIDS. In large part through PHR’s work, they were both released; this process took nearly three years.
Despite the general acknowledgement and celebration of healthcare workers and their sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been widespread reports of attacks on doctors and nurses in 2020. These attacks, including physical assaults and destruction of personal property, have been reported globally. Many of these attacks stem from misinformation and fears of healthcare workers further spreading the virus in community settings.