Violence Against Health Care: Attacks During a Pandemic

March 1, 2021

Attacks on health careViolence Against Health Care: Attacks During a Pandemic

Associated Press print story 

Associated Press video

For more information or media interviews: Andrea Lampros at or 510.847.4469

The UC Berkeley Human Rights Center and Insecurity Insight have mapped more than 1,100 attacks against health care workers and facilities—including 400 attacks that appear to be specifically COVID-19 related—over 12 months worldwide. As the pandemic rages on in many parts of the world, these attacks continue.

“In the midst of the pandemic, attacks on health care workers and facilities further exacerbate fragile health care systems worldwide and deprive people of basic protections,” said Dr. Rohini Haar, Human Rights Center Research Fellow, UC Berkeley lecturer, and ER doctor. “We hope to shed a light on the numbers and shapes of these attacks.”

Insecurity Insight Director Christina Wille said the onslaught of health attacks at the beginning of the pandemic was overwhelming, prompting the research. 

“We set up the collection of COVID-related attacks on health care in response to a flood of new community and patient-perpetrated events we suddenly saw surfacing everywhere,” said Wille. “It was the time when the whole world was struggling to make sense of how our lives had suddenly changed.”

The Insecurity Insight team, usually compiling data on conflict related violence against health care for the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition , sought additional help from researchers at UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, and Drexel University to document and code the numbers and details of the attacks.

The researchers found that attacks related to COVID-19 often included violence against doctors and nurses, exacerbating the stress of medical workers caring for those who are sick and dying from the coronavirus. And in some areas of the world, conflict and COVID-19 converged to exact an even greater human toll.

Researchers used data from the Security in Numbers Database , Armed Conflict Location Events Dataset , and the WHO Surveillance System of Attacks on Healthcare , as well as from news reports and user-generated content found on social media.

The Human Rights Center Investigations Lab at UC Berkeley tapped students to use open source investigation methods to scour social media for photos, vidoes, and posts about attacks.

“We looked closely at some countries—like Myanmar—where information was stifled during the pandemic to see if attacks were occurring,” said Stephanie Croft, director of Berkeley’s Investigations Lab, who led the research. “We gave students a chance to find information and make an impact in areas that are under-reported and of critical importance for the world.”

The interactive report looks more closely at three countries—Libya, India, and Mexico—to understand how some of the attacks unfolded. In examples from Mexico and India, citizens attacked health care workers and in Libya, warring parties continued attacks during lockdowns, which directly impacted the country’s ability to respond to COVID-19.

The report makes several recommendations for further investigations, calling for more tracking, verification, and communication about accurate information related to attacks on health care workers and facilities to “motivate stronger protective responses from governments and other actors.”

The report was authored by Stephanie Croft, Anne Daugherty, and Devon Lim with support from Rohini Haar, Christina Wille, Eric Stover, Alexa Koenig, and Andrea Lampros. Students from the Human Rights Center Investigations Lab also contributed to this report: Alyssia Beu, Danielle Kaye, Eliza Hollingsworth, Eve Devillers, Janine Graham, Jennifer Kwon, Kavya Nambiar, Kung Chen, Makaila Heifner, and Samantha Vuong.