Background Healthcare is under attack in Syria with repeated air strikes on hospitals and ambulances and the largest death toll of health workers in any recorded conflict.1 Ambulances in Syria have been bombed, shot at, stolen, looted and obstructed, significantly impeding their ability to safely evacuate the wounded and provide medical aid.
Methods This article presents the summary of a literature review on attacks against ambulances in Syria from 2011 to 2018, as well as a descriptive secondary data analysis on individual attacks reported by the Syrian Network for Human Rights from January 2016 to December 2017. A peer-reviewed literature search included three databases (PubMed, ProQuest and Embase), and a grey literature search included reports from groups involved in the Syrian health response or human rights monitoring.
Findings From 2016 to 2017, there were 204 individual attacks involving 243 ambulances. Half (49%) were either heavily damaged or put out of service. The main perpetrators were the Syrian regime (60%) and the Russian armed forces (29%). Half (52%) of ambulances were directly targeted. The peer-reviewed literature search yielded 18 articles, from which the following themes were drawn: targeting of ambulances, ‘double-tap’ attacks, delays to care, obstruction and other forms of violence, and long-term consequences.
Interpretation Ambulances have been intentionally and repeatedly targeted throughout the Syrian conflict as part of a war strategy. Real challenges in monitoring and systematically tracking attacks on ambulances exist, but as a result, they are understudied and likely under-reported.
- medical transport
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Handling editor Seye Abimbola
Contributors CHW initiated the study and defined the initial research question. CHW and CY-TC developed the detailed methodology and carried out the literature review. CHW drafted the protocol, analysed the data and drafted the manuscript. All authors reviewed any doubtful papers. All authors critically reviewed the draft and approved the final version for publication.
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data sharing statement No additional data are available.
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