As hospital attacks mount, some demand that injured gang members be treated at military facilities

Jan 17, 2023 | 6 comments

In 2022 and through the second week of January, the Ministry of Health reports 97 violent attacks in hospitals and health clinics in the country, all of them in coastal provinces. Many of the attacks are raids by armed individuals or groups attempting to kill patients wounded in earlier confrontations.

According to police, almost all the attackers and targets are members of drug gangs, with the attackers attempting to “finish off” their victim.

Police responded in November to an armed attack at a hospital in Chone. The attackers were arrested and their 16-year-old target was uninjured.

Last week’s assault at a small hospital in northwest Guayaquil is the latest in a growing number of such armed invasions. As in all but two earlier cases, the attackers were unable to kill their target although a security guard died in an exchange of gunfire.

“So far, we have been fortunate in these events since the gunmen are not able to locate their victim but we are alarmed by the increasing number of these events,” says Health Ministry Risk Management Director Diego Vallejo. “In most cases, as with last week’s in Guayaquil, police have responded quickly and have arrested the perpetrators.”

Vallejo said that not all attacks are aimed at patients. “In a number of cases, hospital personnel have been victims of robbery attempts by armed individuals.”

He added that all attacks have been in health facilities in Guayas, Esmeraldas, Manabí, Santo Domingo, El Oro and Santa Elena Provinces.

Ecuador’s Medical Federation is demanding that patients with a high-risk profile not be sent to traditional hospitals. “Hospitals are not armed fortresses. The individuals involved in criminal activity should not be transferred to public and private health facilities since these facilities are not equipped to provide a high level of armed protection,” the Federation said in a statement. “They should be sent to police, naval and military hospitals where they can receive a higher level of protection.”

In addition to the guard who died last week, two other guards died in 2022 during the hospital assaults. “No health care worker has died or been seriously injured to date,” Vallejo says, adding that this could change unless new measures are put in place in the cases where suspected criminal gang members are patients.

He added that he agrees with the Medical Federation and said talks are underway with police to change the treatment protocol for those injured in gang conflicts.