In truth, there is no way to come with a 100 percent accurate count of all the health workers who have died since the conflict in Syria that began six years ago this month.
That’s because it takes a lot of checking to verify a death — Physicians for Human Rights, for example, wants to know the victim’s name, job, the location and date of death and the cause of death. And they want three sources who can back up the account.
So not every death has been officially confirmed. In fact, Elise Baker, a researcher for PHR, says she believes that the organization has only been able to verify 50 to 65 percent of reported health worker deaths.
But now there is at least a minimum number of confirmed deaths: 814. That’s the figure in a new study in the British medical journal Lancet, which compiles data from groups like PHR that carefully document health worker deaths from all kinds of organizations. Dr. Samer Jabbour of the American University of Beirut is the study author.
The toll includes doctors, nurses, medics and others, including dentists and pharmacy students. Cases where the health worker was not deliberately targeted as part of an attack on a health facility were not counted.
Jabbour says that the researchers looked at numbers that had been verified up to 2016 and added in deaths in early 2017 that could also be confirmed.
The chart below gives the death toll year by year. The paper notes: “We propose the idea of weaponization of health care to capture the phenomenon of large-scale use of violence to restrict or deny access to care as a weapon of war.”
“Our point was to say, this is the story of the conflict,” says Jabbour, “and that we should not accept this situation.”
And yet the situation goes on. “The study goes to print,” he says, “and then boom, you hear about another health worker killed.”