“There is a fear that you will be attacked just for the act of working in health”: a survey of experiences of violence against healthcare in Colombia

Katerina Crawford, Tatiana Florez, Mario Rodriguez, Lendy Cirado, Róisín Read, Rohini Haar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colombia has experienced decades of conflict between the government and non-state actors. Attacks on healthcare have been a grave but regular facet of that violence. In response, the Misión Médica (MM) program was developed to support, protect, and defend healthcare. Sporadic violence continues, with many recent attacks perpetrated not by armed actors but by residents. Given the history of conflict and ongoing violence, we sought to capture the perspectives of both healthcare workers (HCWs) and community members (CMs) regarding the characteristics and impacts of attacks on health in Colombia to gain insight into how to better prevent violence and mitigate its impacts.

A cross-sectional survey was conducted from January to March 2021 in seven departments in Colombia in regions that witnessed attacks on healthcare. Questionnaires were administered to HCWs and CMs via purposive sampling, probing their experiences with attacks on health with both closed and open-ended questions. The categorical responses were stratified by health worker vs. non-health worker and descriptively analyzed. Narrative responses were analyzed via a hybrid deductive/inductive thematic approach.

Seventy-three individuals participated in the study (36 HCWs and 37 cm). Approximately 77% of HCWs believed that attacks on healthcare impacted health outcomes while 68% of CMs did not see a direct connection between violence against healthcare and poor health outcomes. Awareness of the MM program was significantly different between HCWs (83.3%) and CMs (37.8%). The survey responses explored the characteristics of attacks on health, compounded impacts of violence on the health system, personal impacts, and perspectives on mitigation efforts.

The study demonstrates that: (1) attacks on healthcare are context-dependent and require a local lens for mitigation and management; (2) both HCWs and CMs have critical perspectives that must be considered, (3) the impacts of violence against healthcare are complex and compounded and (4) that awareness of the legal protections of the Geneva Conventions must be combined with education on the health impacts for robust protection strategies. Critically, Both CMs and HCWs experience fear and psychosocial ramifications of these attacks, suggesting the need for stronger protections and resources to support the health workforce and the local community.
Original languageEnglish
Article number51
JournalConflict and Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2023


  • Armed conflict
  • Attacks on health
  • Colombia
  • Geneva conventions
  • Healthcare
  • International Humanitarian Law
  • Medicine
  • Misión Médica
  • Violence against healthcare
  • War Crimes

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute


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