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Attacks on healthcare in the context of COVID-19

The report “Attacks on the Healthcare Sector in the Context of COVID-19” focuses on one of the top healthcare security issues. These issues are related to cybersecurity threats: data and system exploitation. 

The document is based on a survey of medical institutions in the US, Canada, and Western Europe. Experts from healthcare sectors state that modern cybercriminals target patient data protected with outdated technologies. 

In addition, the lack of proper post-breach response frameworks hurts protection measures. Since the epidemic began, healthcare personnel have received more support, solidarity, and appreciation than ever. 

Nonetheless, attacks against healthcare have been recorded regularly, including occurrences of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. 

This extraordinary public health emergency has shown. Health institutions, medical transportation, patients, health-care personnel, and their families can – and can – become targets everywhere. 

This concerning trend emphasizes the need for better safeguards to protect healthcare workers from acts of violence. 

Protecting the health and lives of frontline healthcare personnel is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing for a stronger worldwide response.

COVID-19 pandemic- Attacks on healthcare:

The WHO defines a health-care attack as “any act of verbal or physical violence, the threat of violence, other psychological violence, or obstruction that interferes with the availability, access, or delivery of curative and preventative health services.”

These all are examples of violence against healthcare, according to the WHO: – 

Bombings, explosions, gunfire, forced facility closures, violent facility searches, fire, arson, military use, military takeover, cyberattack, abduction of health workers, denial or delay of health services, assault, forcing staff to act against their ethics, torture, and violent demonstrations.

Types of attacks on healthcare in the COVID-19 pandemic:

COVID-19-related attacks on healthcare vary widely depending on the environment, ranging from using heavy weaponry against health facilities to stigmatizing healthcare employees. 

Ultimately, whether by a cyber-attack or a physical assault, they deny patients access to acute treatment, put healthcare personnel at risk, and weaken health institutions.

  • Physical assault
  • Denial of services
  • Obstruction
  • Eviction from home
  • Cyberattack
  • Heavy weapon
  • Psychological threat

Why do people abuse healthcare?

People assault and mistreat healthcare employees for various reasons, and the causes vary depending on the local culture. 

Fear, panic, ignorance about how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and misguided anger were potential drivers in certain contexts during the COVID-19 epidemic. Several government officials have retaliated by threatening fast.

In some cases, severe punishment for anyone who harms healthcare employees. However, threats of retaliation do not address the root reasons for such violence and are unlikely to deter future attacks. 

COVID-19 Event: 

COVID-19 pandemic directly relates to this category. Any act of verbal or physical violence, obstruction, or threat of violence motivated by fear of infection. 

Opposition to or enforcement of any measures put in place to contain the spread of infection or opposition to health measures implemented. 

These acts of violence directly affect the COVID-19 response because they injured or killed health workers working in healthcare during the pandemic and damaged or destroyed any equipment used in the COVID-19 response.

  • Conflict:

Any act of verbal or physical aggression, obstruction, or threat of violence by conflict actors against healthcare personnel. To assess whether a perpetrator of a healthcare attack is a conflict actor, we use the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP). 

The focus is on violence against healthcare in the context of conflict, extreme political volatility, and public health programs. 

Even when it occurs in conflict-affected nations, interpersonal violence or violence by patients against healthcare workers is not included.

If these occur in countries that also suffer war as defined by the UCDP, violence against health professionals in the context of demonstrations or public unrest is included.

  • Healthcare services:

Healthcare services offer to preserve and improve human health through disease, sickness, injury, diagnosis, and treatment. 

Physicians, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, physiotherapists, paramedics, and others working for a private, government, or charity-run health service can provide healthcare. 

It is found by contributions from the international community, INGOs, local governments, philanthropists, medical insurance companies, and people seeking healthcare. It comprises basic, secondary, and tertiary case management and public health.

  • A healthcare provider:

Any individual directly supports patients in a professional or volunteer position in healthcare. 

Administrators, paramedics, dentists, doctors, government health officials, hospital employees, medical education staff, nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists, surgeons, vaccine workers, volunteers, and other health personnel not specified here are included.

  • COVID-19 employee:

Any individual who assists the health workers during the COVID-19. Then the reactions, such as disinfection, contact tracing, and sensitization about health measures. 

The organizing of safe funerals, excluding members of the state security forces or vigilante groups attempting to impose government regulations.

  • COVID-19-related facility or a health facility:

Any facility that offers direct care to COVID-19 patients. Also, to those who have a suspicion of contamination. 

Clinics, laboratories, makeshift hospitals, medical education facilities, mobile clinics, pharmacies, warehouses, and other health institutions converted into temporary COVID-19 treatment or quarantine facilities are included.


Finally, health professional groups, societies, and organizations from all specialties and disciplines should band together to condemn all forms of discrimination, intimidation, and violence directed against healthcare employees.

When violence happens, they must promptly denounce it and engage in programs to react to and reduce violence. These steps must perform right now. 

We defend our most significant assets in the fight against COVID-19 by protecting healthcare personnel: physicians, nurses, emergency medical technicians, medical and respiratory technicians, laboratory workers, and many more front-line professionals.

To read more articles click here


Davinci is a research-based contributor for intely, providing content specifically in the Healthcare IT and Digital Health space.

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