On 19 August 2003, a terrorist attack on the United Nations’ headquarters in Baghdad resulted in the death of 22 persons, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN’s top representative in Iraq.
5 years later, the UN General Assembly designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day. Every year since then, the humanitarian community has organized global campaigns advocating for the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers; and for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises.
Emergencies cause immense suffering for millions of people – usually the world’s poorest, most marginalized and vulnerable individuals.
Humanitarian aid workers, including health care workers, strive to provide life-saving assistance and long term rehabilitation to disaster-affected communities, regardless of where they are in the world and without discrimination based on nationality, social group, religion, sex, race or any other factor.
The sanctity of health care, the right to health care, and international humanitarian law are threatened:
- patients are shot in their hospital beds,
- medical personnel are menaced or attacked,
- facilities are bombed,
depriving people of urgently needed care, endangering health care providers, undermining health systems and long term public health goals, and contributing to the deterioration in the health and wellbeing of affected populations.
Essential life-saving health services must be provided to emergency-affected populations unhindered by any form of violence or obstruction.
Attacks on health facilities, health workers and ambulances continue with alarming frequency. According to the data systematically collected by WHO through the Surveillance System on Attacks on Health Care, in the first half of 2018, 107 people died following 354 attacks on health facilities or transportation in 5 countries or territories (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syrian Arab Republic, West Bank and Gaza Strip).
Every hospital destroyed and every health worker killed or injured takes health services away from the people who need them most, often taking many years to replace. Stop attacks on health care.
Health workers face danger and adversity in order to help others under challenging circumstances, whether it be in a conflict, natural disaster, disease outbreak or resource-poor settings.
Attacks on health too often mean that communities lose access to services at a time when they need them most. Reliable access to health care – especially for the most vulnerable – is vital to achieving universal health coverage and to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
WHO seeks to ensure that:
- Health workers are protected and can provide health care in a safe and protected environment;
- Patients have access to health care when they need it most;
- Parties to conflict understand and uphold their responsibilities under International Humanitarian Law;
- Health care delivery is not disrupted by attacks; and
- All forms of violence against health care stop.
Violence against health workers providing care in conflict is prohibited by international law, and has therefore been globally condemned. As well as destroying human life, such attacks inhibit the ability of humanitarian agencies to respond to health emergencies, increasing the vulnerability of civilians in conflict.
This World Humanitarian Day, WHO demands that leaders:
- Do not target health workers, facilities, health transport or patients.
- Respect the right of all wounded and sick persons to receive medical care.
- Adopt and promote the UN Secretary-General’s recommendations on the protection of medical care in armed conflict.
Link to the World Humanitarian Day 2018 web site:
Link to the related World Health Organization (WHO) page:
Link to WHO Secretary-General’s message on World Humanitarian Day 2018:
Link to WHO’s Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care (SSA):
Link to multimedia resources on World Humanitarian Day 2018: