GENEVA: The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday called for healthcare facilities and personnel to be protected from targeted violence during conflicts, reported Xinhua.

Speaking at a panel discussion at WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that damage to healthcare facilities and their staff has become the norm, as seen in Gaza, Sudan, and Ethiopia.

Tedros’ remarks came in the wake of deadly attacks on aid workers by Israel, which have sparked international outrage and condemnation. The violence puts an added strain on health systems which are already overwhelmed, and leads to psychological trauma for vulnerable patients, the WHO chief said.

More than 1,400 attacks on healthcare centres have been documented in the last year, leaving 742 people dead and causing over a thousand injuries, according to statistics provided by the United Nations’ (UN) health agency.

Hospitals and medical personnel should be sacrosanct during conflicts, in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, emphasised UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk at Monday’s talks.

Meanwhile, in areas free of conflict, global warming has exacerbated droughts and floods, damaging health and livelihoods, Turk warned.

“One of the unfortunate things of war is that it’s always about crisis management, which doesn’t leave much room to actually deal with the big challenges of our time,“ the UN human rights chief said. “The climate crisis is clearly one of them.”

The two leaders agreed that universal health coverage should be promoted, with Turk underlining that universal access to health care is a human right, not a political issue. “It has to influence the budgetary decisions that states make,“ he said.

Turk and Tedros proposed building on the current strategic dialogue mechanism between the WHO and the UN human rights office (OHCHR). -Bernama