WHO European Regional Director Visits Lviv, Ukraine; Reaffirms Support for Rebuilding Health System
WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge, speaking from Lviv, Ukraine

In a highly symbolic visit to Lviv, Ukraine, World Health Organization Regional Director Hans Kluge reaffirmed WHO’s commitment to rebuilding the country’s war-torn health system.  

Speaking in a press briefing staged directly from Lviv, Kluge said, “We are committed to work through a decentralized footprint [in Ukraine], both during the current humanitarian response but also to be there with local and national authorities to rebuild the war-torn health system.”

Kluge’s presence in Western Ukrainian city for the briefing demonstrates an important sign of moral and even political support from WHO, for the country which was invaded by Russia on 25 February, and has endured massive bombing of cities, health facilities, as well as the direct targeting of civilians in a range of incidents that some western politicians say amount to war crimes. 

“Health requires peace. Well-being requires hope, and healing requires time. I speak on behalf of the entire WHO family when I say that it is my deepest wish that this war comes to an end swiftly without further loss of life,” said Kluge.

The European Regional Director said hw was using the visit to the city, on the border with Poland, that has served as a comparative refuge for Ukranians fleeing areas under intense bombardment, in order to speak with frontline health workers, patients, local and national authorities in order to gather insight on both the immediate and longer-term health needs of Ukraine.  

“The life-saving medicine Ukraine needs right now is peace,” Kluge emphasized. 

Almost 100 attacks on health care across Ukraine 

In Kharkiv, there are more than 200 pregnant women left in the underground maternity hospital.

Forty-three days into the Russian invasion, coinciding with World Health Day, the country has seen devastation across its health system, with WHO verifying 91 attacks on health. 

Kluge referred to this as a “clear breach of international humanitarian law.” 

“A health facility has to be a safe place.” 

Additionally, half of all Ukrainian pharmacies are presumed closed, and 1000 health facilities are in proximity to conflict areas or in changed areas of control. 

Routine immunization coverage for measles and polio is below the threshold for population immunity.

Frontline health workers are also impacted by the conflict, with members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released by Russian forces Tuesday after trying to enter the besieged coastal city of Mariupol. 

“We have to prepare for different eventualities, anticipating that health challenges will get worse before they get better,” said Kluge, reiterating WHO’s commitment to be in Ukraine for the long and short-term to address immediate health challenges and future reconstruction.

WHO working to support Ukrainians in and out of country 

Jarno Habicht, WHO Reprsentative in Ukraine

WHO is currently working to keep health services operational in the country, working closely with national and local authorities, and more than 80 partners to maintain services. 

Over 185 tons of medical supplies have already been delivered to the hardest hit areas of the country, reaching half of a million people with materials to support trauma, surgery, and primary health care. 

“From the health perspective, it is very important that we ensure access to health care in the same way we are asking for humanitarian convoys,” said Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine.

Essential supplies to the northeastern city of Sumy, besieged by Russian troops, have been delivered last week, with an additional 125 tons of medical supplies also on their way. 

Assistive products, including wheelchairs, mobility aids, communication aids for the blind, are also in transit and will be distributed across Ukraine soon. 

WHO is also coordinating with the European Union and national authorities of other countries to extend health services to an estimated 4.2 million people who have fled Ukraine since 24 February.

This includes offering routine childhood immunization, and equipment and supplies needed to manage COVID-19 and other communicable diseases such as measles and polio. 

Working to ‘Not Lose the Momentum’ Against TB and HIV

Prior to the invasion, Ukraine had seen excellent progress in its fight against tuberculosis and HIV, with Kluge praising Ukraine’s model TB programme.

“Ukraine was a beacon of best practice in Europe, with TB incidence falling by almost half in the past 15 years.”

The country had significantly reduced its TB cases from over 127 cases per 100 000 people in 2005 to just 42.2 cases per 100 000 people in 2020. 

Despite the war, WHO is determined to support Ukraine and not lose the momentum against TB, with WHO teams prepared to redeploy throughout the country as access and security improves. 

WHO will also be working together with the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and Ukrainian authorities and other partners to ensure the supply of antiretroviral drugs to cover the needs of an estimated 260 000 people in Ukraine will be met for the next 12 months. 

A delivery of 209 000, 90-day supplies of antiretroviral medicines has arrived in Lviv, Ukraine ready to be distributed, UNAIDS said on Wednesday. However, distribution within Ukraine is set to be a challenge, particularly in conflict areas.

Image Credits: UNICEF, Hanna Liubakova/Twitter.

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