As Ukraine War Intensifies, WHO Moves Supplies and Supports Efforts to Assist Rape Survivors
A destroyed tank is abandoned on the road to Bucha, Ukraine.

Getting medical supplies and equipment to those Ukrainians who need it as fighting intensifies is one of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) biggest concerns, according to WHO Europe spokesperson, Bhanu Bhatnagar on Tuesday.

“An increase in fighting could further threaten our supply chains in and out of affected areas.,” said Bhatnagar, who is currently in Lviv, a Ukrainian town near the Polish border.

“To mitigate this risk, we plan to ramp up our donations to the Ministry of Health, assess the possibility of pre-positioning supplies in additional locations to help build a network of warehouses, for example in Poltava to serve the north and east, and Odessa to serve the south,” he added.

WHO has so far delivered 218 metric tonnes of emergency and medical supplies and equipment to Ukraine. Of that amount, 142 metric tonnes – roughly two-thirds – have reached their intended destinations, mostly in the east and north of the country where the need is greatest.

The WHO has a large storage facility in Lviv, some 65km from the Polish border, but the town – which had been a refuge for those fleeing fighting elsewhere – was targeted by Russian missiles on Monday, and may no longer offer a safe place for WHO supplies.

Generators and oxygen

The global body is also trying to get 15 generators delivered to hospitals across Ukraine this week, including to Mariupol, Kharkiv, and Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts but will only do so “when we can ensure the safety of our personnel and the precious cargo they are transporting”, said Bhatnagar.

“Patient care is heavily dependent on access to reliable power supply. Even a momentary power failure can have serious consequences for patients, for example, those needing medical oxygen,” he added.

In addition, only 10 oxygen plants are still able to supply hospitals and health services, and WHO is working on contingency plans with the Ministry of Health to address any disruptions.  

To date, the WHO has verified 147 incidents of attacks on health care in Ukraine, in which at least 73 people have died and 52 have been injured. Of these, 132 attacks have been on health facilities and 16 on ambulances.

Rape survivor training

WHO Europe has also been providing technical support to Ukraine to assist it to align its clinical protocols on health services for survivors of sexual violence with WHO guidelines and developing training curricula for primary health care providers on the clinical management of rape in humanitarian settings, according to its latest situation report.

This comes amid numerous reports of systemic rape of Ukrainian women and children by Russian soldiers.

The Executive Director for UN Women, Sima Bahous, told a recent UN Security Council briefing that the increasing reports of sexual violence and human trafficking in Ukraine — allegedly committed against women and children in the context of massive displacement and ongoing fighting — are raising “all the red flags” about a potential protection crisis.

Warning that “this trauma risks destroying a generation”, Bahous added that women make up 80% of all health and social care workers in Ukraine, and many have chosen not to flee as they want to help their communities.

The WHO has also hosted a webinar for pulmonologists in Poland to increase awareness and update them on the treatment approaches in Ukraine, especially on drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB).

Meanwhile, a case of highly contagious bacterial infection, diphtheria, has been confimed in  Donetsk oblast. 

Image Credits: Marco Frattini/ World Food Program.

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