Fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine has wreaked havoc on the health system, with more than five million people affected, the United Nations said on Friday, warning that outbreaks of infectious diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and polio pose a major threat to the region.
The World Health Organization said access to primary, secondary and emergency health services is “critically needed,” adding that the health infrastructure was buckling under the humanitarian crisis.
Dorit Nitzan, the WHO representative in Ukraine, said the UN health agency urgently needed at least $23 million (19 million euros) to provide better health facilities to some five million people, classifying 1.4 million of them as “highly vulnerable”.
WHO said the worst affected are an estimated 700,000 displaced people, along with the Roma community, women, children and old people. Meanwhile, people trapped in the hard-hit eastern cities of Luhansk and Donetsk are essentially without any medical assistance, as hospitals are frequently cut off from water and electricity, and deliveries of food and critical medicine supplies have all but stopped.
“Hospitals … where they have specialists in emergency medicine, in other areas — pediatrics, chemotherapy, etcetera — these hospitals are now out of reach for the people in those regions because they are under the militant control and therefore people cannot reach them” said Nitzan.
Average vaccination coverage across the country is well below 50 percent, WHO said, adding that up to 70 percent of health workers were thought to have either fled or died. As a result, there is a “huge risk of vaccine-preventable diseases” said Nitzan. “Measles and polio are first on the list.”
Also vulnerable are the 32,000 HIV/AIDS patients from the Donbas region, who do not have access to the full range of medications they need to control their illness, said Nitzan. Similarly, she added, those with tuberculosis are at great risk of interrupted treatment — a trend that could compound existing problems with drug resistance.
“Twenty-five percent of the new cases per year of TB, tuberculosis patients in Donetsk, are diagnosed already when they have multi-drug resistant TB. So, now we assume that it is even higher from the scattered data that we have-that we assume it is about 40 percent of the newly-diagnosed people with TB already with multi-drug resistance,” said Nitzan.
She also said pregnant women, people suffering from cancers and diabetes, and those needing mental and psychological support are not getting the care they need. “This is a situation that is spreading,” Nitzan warned, adding that the health sector is “completely collapsing.”
As of January 6, the U.N. Human Rights Office reports more than 4,800 people have been killed and 10,468 wounded since fighting in east Ukraine began last April.