Ukraine sees over 200 Russian attacks on healthcare, must be probed: WHO

Kiev: The World Health Organization (WHO), which recorded 226 attacks on Ukrainian healthcare, almost three attacks per day since Russia’s began its invasion of the country on February 24, has called for a probe.

According to Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe, Russia’s attacks on health-care facilities and ambulances in Ukraine have left at least 75 people dead and 49 injured.

In addition, the attacks have significantly damaged medical infrastructure in Ukraine, and severely impacted access to health care in many areas.

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“Two thirds of all attacks on health care this year verified by WHO globally have been in Ukraine,” Kluge said in a statement on Tuesday, on his third visit in the year to the war-torn country.

“These attacks are not justifiable, they are never OK, and they must be investigated. It is an insult to the dedication and integrity of health workers everywhere that they continue with impunity. No health professional should have to deliver health care on a knife edge,” he added.

The WHO will contribute to any investigation that takes place in the future, Kluge said, on the 83rd day of Russia’s invasion, which has caused thousands of civilian deaths and injuries in Ukraine, including children.

WHO representative in Ukraine, Jarno Habicht, said the healthcare facilities and ambulances attacked had served a quarter of a million Ukrainians each month in 2021, the CNBC reported.

“So that’s the impact of those attacks. And those attacks are continuing, which is unacceptable. There is no reason for that,” Habicht was quoted as saying.

Habicht said the WHO has taken steps to support Ukraine’s health system.

He noted that the global health agency has delivered more than 500 metric tonnes of medical supplies to the hardest-hit areas of the country since February.

More than 50 per cent of the supplies, including medicines, ambulances and electric generators, will go toward trauma and injury care. The WHO also provides medical kits to treat those with chronic illnesses, and one kit can provide three months of treatment for thousands of people, according to Habicht.

While praising the efforts of health workers of Ukraine, “who have shown tremendous bravery and dedication since the war began”, Kluge noted the conditions of the health system in Ukraine both “heartbreaking and inspiring”.

“I’d like to express my immense appreciation and admiration for the health workers of this country who have shown tremendous bravery and dedication since the war began. You have done the impossible. You stand firm and save lives.”

He noted that the country faces significant health challenges as one in three people with a chronic condition continue to struggle to access medicines; one in three tuberculosis cases are multidrug resistant; and vaccine coverage for polio and measles remains below the recommended rate of 95 per cent.

There is also the potential of a cholera outbreak in occupied areas, where water and sanitation infrastructure is damaged or destroyed, Kluge said.

He called for scaling up mental health services, as “over 16,000 people in Ukraine with moderate to severe mental health conditions face shortages of essential medicines”.

Kluge also expressed concern over reports of increase in sexual violence and exploitation in Ukraine.

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