March 16, 2022 – As the war in Ukraine enters its fourth week, the World Health Organization reports that 43 hospitals, clinics and ambulances have been bombed within the country so far.
“We have never seen such a rapid rate of attack on health care globally. In these cases, health is being targeted. It is becoming part of the strategy and tactics of warfare,” the WHO Health Emergencies Programme executive said. Director Michael Ryan, MD, said.
Ryan said in a Wednesday morning news conference that targeting medical facilities and staff is not only a violation of international law, but all parties involved in the conflict must deliberately avoid such targeting, which does not happen in Ukraine.
The country’s overall healthcare capacity is also declining due to the conflict. The WHO announced that since the conflict began, the country has seen a 22% reduction in beds with oxygen and a 20% reduction in beds used for surgery and treating trauma patients.
Adding to the challenge is the location of Ukrainian hospitals and clinics, which now have about 300 health facilities in Russian-controlled territory and another 600 within about six miles of the front lines.
reinforcements are ready
The World Health Organization has announced that 20 international medical teams are ready to travel to Ukraine, but those plans are on hold for now. Officially, the group is awaiting an official request from the Ukrainian health minister.
In fact, it’s too dangerous now.
“How can we deploy emergency medical teams in facilities that are … going to be attacked, going to be bombed and catastrophically damaged?” Ryan asked. “How can you do this in good conscience?
Ryan said the issue goes beyond damage to physical facilities.
“It’s not just about the destruction of buildings. It’s about the destruction of hope. It’s about taking away a reason for people’s lives – the fact that their families can be cared for, that they can be cured when they are sick, and when they are injured.”
“It’s the most basic human right.”
The WHO’s update on health care in Ukraine came the same day Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the U.S. Congress for more military supplies and support.
Funding is also needed to support the organization’s efforts to protect Ukraine’s health care, the WHO said.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros said: “We face financial constraints in our ability to provide the support we need. To date, WHO has only received US$8 million of our appeal for US$57.5 million.”
“A lot of money is being spent on weapons,” Tedros said. “We ask donors to invest in ensuring that civilians and refugees in Ukraine get the care they need.”
While supply lines for essential medicines and medical supplies are now established, it remains difficult to use them during the conflict, he said.
specific health problems
Adelheid Marschang, MD, senior emergency officer at WHO’s Emergencies Programme, said many people in Ukraine are already being treated for HIV and tuberculosis.
“If their treatment is interrupted and they get significantly worse, there is an increased risk of transmission, as well as an increased risk of antimicrobial resistance in the disease itself,” she said.
In Ukraine, children who cannot be vaccinated against rubella or measles are also at risk, Marschang said. “There is a risk of an outbreak.”
She said the lack of drinking water in parts of Ukraine has heightened concerns that people are now at risk of dysentery and other water-borne diseases.
Global call to end conflict
While the world’s attention is on Ukraine, military conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan and Ethiopia are straining health systems and creating shortages of medicines and food, the World Health Organization reports.
Tedros called on all parties involved in these conflicts to end the siege and blockade. “It’s the only solution.”