International health organizations are rushing medical supplies and medicines to Ukraine, as hospitals are caught up in the war and human suffering proliferates.
Ukrainians who have been trapped or displaced by fighting are running short of medicines to treat chronic diseases and injuries, health authorities say. Many people are experiencing psychological and emotional trauma. And, authorities said, the risk of outbreaks of Covid-19, measles and other infectious diseases is rising as Russia’s invasion of the country forces more people from their homes.
“The conditions we see in Ukraine are the worst possible ingredients for the amplification and spread of infectious disease,” said
executive director of the World Health Organization’s health-emergencies program.
At least 27 attacks on health facilities, workers and ambulances have been confirmed so far in Ukraine, including 12 deaths and 34 injuries, according to WHO data on Friday. A maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol was hit Wednesday by a Russian airstrike, with many casualties, according to Ukrainian authorities. Crown Agents, a British international-development nonprofit, said it is providing protective equipment for doctors and nurses who are being targeted by snipers when they emerge to treat the injured after air raids.
Staff have abandoned some of the 1,000 hospitals and clinics that are on or close to front lines, or moved equipment to another facility, according to the WHO. “These attacks deprive whole communities of healthcare,” WHO Director-General
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
said, imploring Russian authorities to allow deliveries of humanitarian aid. Russia has said its forces aren’t deliberately targeting civilians.
Several organizations are sending trauma medical kits to treat victims of military attacks and other medical supplies to hospitals and clinics. Drugmakers are donating antibiotics, painkillers, diabetes and Covid-19 treatments and other medicines, mostly through aid organizations. Organizations are also providing mental-health services to people who have fled to shelters in Ukraine or to neighboring countries.
The WHO has delivered 81 metric tons of surgical and other medical supplies to health facilities in Ukraine and plans to send more, Dr. Tedros said. The agency is also supporting healthcare in neighboring countries for refugees from Ukraine, who now number more than two million, mostly women and children, he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has about 600 people working in Ukraine, has sent medical supplies to three hospitals in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and two in Mariupol, a strategically important city on the Black Sea. With Mariupol surrounded and under barrage by Russian troops, the ICRC said it isn’t able to deliver more supplies despite urgent needs. Residents have told the ICRC that family members are dehydrated and can’t get food and water. A pregnant woman who is alone with a child reached out about where to give birth, said ICRC spokesman Jason Straziuso.
“We’re moving toward worst-case scenarios in Mariupol,” Mr. Straziuso said.
Health experts say the war is increasing the risk of infectious-disease outbreaks. Vaccine hesitancy was common in Ukraine even before the Covid-19 pandemic, and rates of vaccination against polio, measles and other diseases are low by international standards. Health authorities launched a polio-vaccination campaign at the beginning of February to fight an outbreak first detected in October. That campaign has now been disrupted.
WHO officials said they expect cases of Covid-19 to rise in the coming weeks, with so many people displaced and about 34% of Ukraine’s population vaccinated against the disease. Some people have expressed concern that an exodus of unvaccinated or ill refugees from Ukraine could lead to a worsening of the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe. Dr. Ryan of the WHO said he didn’t think that would be the case. “Refugees are not the source of risk to local populations,” he said.
In the backdrop of the immediate violence and danger, health experts worry that lack of access to treatment is exacerbating chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer.
The ICRC and Direct Relief, a nonprofit humanitarian organization based in California, are dispatching insulin to Ukraine after the medication was identified as a critical need.
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“If those chronic conditions that are being managed become unmanaged because they have to flee, those people can find themselves in an acute crisis in a matter of days,” said
chief executive of Direct Relief.
Ukraine’s health ministry sent a letter on Thursday, asking aid groups for medical supplies including antibiotics, sterile gauze wipes, bandages and antipsychotics, Direct Relief said.
The American Cancer Society created a volunteer corps of oncologists to connect virtually with Ukrainian cancer patients and doctors. Their goal is to help the patients find care or manage treatment disruptions.
“Stopping those therapies or delaying the onset of cancer therapy can present a truly lethal threat,” said
chief executive of the American Cancer Society. An international call line is starting to receive calls from patients, Dr. Knudsen said.
Doctors Without Borders has suspended most of its work in Ukraine, which included fighting drug-resistant tuberculosis and advanced HIV. The organization is donating medical supplies and helping facilities figure out how to manage care in mass-injury incidents. Some staff members are sheltering in Mariupol with other civilians in the encircled city.
To help with the escalating refugee crisis, Doctors Without Borders is setting up at the Ukrainian border, where people are experiencing acute medical crises that can stem from weather exposure, stress and exhaustion or missed treatment, said
Doctors Without Borders’ emergency coordinator in Odessa. The nonprofit International Medical Corps is working at the border as well.
Stocks of HIV medicines in Ukraine have run low because a large delivery of antiretroviral drugs scheduled to arrive in early March was scuttled by Russia’s invasion, said Raman Hailevich, country director for Ukraine for the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.
About 260,000 people are living with HIV in Ukraine, of whom 150,000 are on antiretroviral medications, according to UNAIDS estimates. People with HIV typically take a combination of antiretrovirals daily to suppress the virus, which if allowed to replicate can go on to cause AIDS.
The U.S. has sent enough antiretroviral drugs to maintain treatment for more than 100,000 people who it supports through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a senior State Department official said. Many of these people have been displaced, the official said.
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