As Medical Supplies Reach Kyiv, WHO Vows to Keep ‘Health Diplomacy’ Alive
Ukrainian child with his dog -displaced by war, in a refugee camp on the Moldova-Ukranian border

The World Health Organization (WHO) has managed to get five tonnes of surgical supplies into the besieged Ukrainian capital of Kyiv – although it did not want to disclose how it did so.

WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic, who is in Lviv in western Ukraine, said the global body had received confirmation that the medical supplies had arrived in Kyiv overnight.

“Medical authorities there will dispatch them further. Without specifying precise details, we are looking into all possible modalities to do that,” Jasarevic told a media briefing hosted by the WHO Europe on Tuesday.

“So far, two shipments totalling 76 tonnes of trauma and emergency health supplies, as well as freezers, refrigerators, ice packs, and cool boxes are in transit in Ukraine,” said WHO regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge. “We have further shipments of 500 oxygen concentrators and more supplies are on their way.”

“By hook and by crook, we need to get whatever we can already to the affected areas,” added Kluge. “We know from previous conflicts when doors are being closed, health diplomacy becomes key. Our principle is ‘Health for All’ and the top priority is to get life-saving humanitarian medical supplies to the people in need, wherever.”

Kluge added that the WHO was keeping the communication lines open to “both parties”, and it would also help vulnerable Russians if the western economic blockade disrupted the supply of, for example, cancer medicine or insulin for children.

Meanwhile, the situation of Ukrainians trapped in besieged cities such as Mariupol is worsening, with no access to water, food or power.

Earlier on Tuesday, a number of civilians including foreign students from China, India and other countries, were allowed to leave the southern port of Sumy by bus and in private cars during a Russian-agreed ceasefire.

However, there were reports of Russians firing on those evacuating as well as reports that a proposed evacuation route from Mariupol had been closed by Russian fire.

Addressing a meeting in London, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus mentioned Russia for the first time since its invasion, describing events in Ukraine as “beyond heart-breaking”, and calling on “the Russian Federation to commit to a peaceful resolution of this crisis, and to allow unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for those in need”.

Worst refugee crisis in 75 years

Two million people, the vast majority women and children, have managed to flee Ukraine since 24 February, according to the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday, while Kluge said this number was expected to reach four million by July – the worst refugee crisis in Europe in over 75 years.

WHO Europe is hosting a long-planned meeting on refugee and migrant health is taking place next week in Turkey that will bring together health ministers, representatives of refugee and migrant groups, partner organizations as well as the WHO African and Eastern Mediterranean region.

“This meeting will be an opportunity to take account of current needs in a longer-term context, recognising the potential of migration to contribute to thriving, healthy populations and to ensure an economy of well-being for all,” said Kluge.

He spoke out sharply against reports of discrimination and racism against non-Ukrainian refugees, saying that any differentiated treatment of refugees would not be tolerated.

The principle of all refugees being treated equally would be written into the final outcome document of the meeting in Turkey, he added.

Women are especially vulnerable 

An estimated 80,000 Ukrainian women are expected to give birth in the next three months, and UN agencies anticipate that 1000 women will give birth every week as refugees by July.

Women have already experienced high levels of violence in the eastern Ukrainian areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, where the military and separatists have clashed.

“Past conflicts have shown us that adolescent girls, women with disabilities and elderly women are in the most vulnerable situation,” said Kluge. “They face an increased risk of suffering attacks by people outside the home and by armed groups, as well as intimate partner violence and sexual abuse and exploitation.”

Meanwhile, WHO Europe’s incident manager, Dr Catherine Smallwood, said that there had been 16 confirmed attacks on health facilities, including direct attacks on health facilities and the commandeering of ambulances. However, she added that the WHO did not want to name the facilities in case of reprisals against health workers that had reported them.

Image Credits: UNICEF/UN0599222/Moldovan.

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