Ukraine Allies Call on World Health Assembly to Condemn Russian ‘Aggression’
World Health Assembly delegates minutes after votes on competing resolutions on the health crisis in Ukraine last year.

Europe, the United States, Ukraine and its allies have submitted a draft resolution to the World Health Assembly (WHA) calling on the 194 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) to condemn the health crisis caused by Russia’s “continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The EU-led draft, published on Monday, is a near-identical replica of the resolution condemning Russian “aggression” passed by the WHA last year. They even share the same title.

The resolution urges Russia to “immediately cease any attacks on hospitals and other health care facilities,” and to protect “civilians, health and humanitarian workers.”

At least 8,500 civilians have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, and over 14,000 more have been injured, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in its April status report.

Russia responded by submitting a draft resolution of its own. The resolution, co-sponsored by Syria, makes no mention of Russia’s role in the health crisis in Ukraine. A similar effort to push through a counter-resolution failed last year.

The Russian draft expresses “grave concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine” and demands “all parties concerned to respect their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.” It also strongly condemns “attacks directed against civilians and health objects.”

The WHO surveillance system for attacks on health care (SSA) lists 974 confirmed attacks on health facilities in Ukraine since the start of the war – an onslaught WHO Europe Director Dr Hans Kluge called “the largest attack on health care on European soil since the Second World War.” Over 100 health care workers have died in the attacks.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Russian bill’s co-sponsor, has repeatedly used chemical weapons against his own people throughout the Syrian civil war.

WHO tip-toes a fine line, but Ukraine health crisis in bounds

The Russian delegation protested a US statement in support of Ukraine, calling on the chair to “ask people to speak about health.”

The WHO has had a hard go of its attempts to remain politically neutral amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, a year-long pressure campaign from EU states succeeded in forcing the closure of WHO’s non-communicable diseases office in Moscow. The announcement of its closure was accompanied by the news that the office will be relocated to Copenhagen next year.

The use of the word “invasion” in a WHO status report on the organization’s emergency response in Ukraine caused a clash at this year’s Executive Board meeting, where Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus vehemently defended his choice in response to Russian allegations that the report had been politicized.

“I couldn’t find any other word that would represent it because it’s the truth,” Tedros said. “What could I say?”

Interventions in plenary sessions calling out Russia’s role in the health crisis in Ukraine have so far been upheld by WHA President Dr Christopher Fearne despite repeated Russian protests.

“We are not in New York, we are in the world health assembly,” the Russian delegation said in response to a statement by the United States that its invasion of Ukraine violated the charter of the United Nations. “We are ready to discuss the entire agenda, but not … any issues of aggression, or whatever these countries are saying.”

Fearne called the health crisis in Ukraine “clearly a health matter relevant to this assembly”.

“In fact,” he added, “we are to discuss it later on this week.”

Image Credits: Health Policy Watch .

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