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Press Release

Ukraine: With health facilities under attack and people trapped at home, IRC warns of increased disease and preventable deaths

  • Attacks on healthcare facilities, transport, and personnel—more than 60 in just four weeks—are limiting access to life saving services and supplies in Ukraine
  • Mothers are expected to give birth to 80,000 babies in the next three months without access to adequate healthcare.
  • IRC experience shows that when people are trapped and health and sanitation facilities are targeted, diseases like cholera spread and preventable deaths skyrocket.

Civilians in Ukraine are facing a catastrophic health crisis following 64 attacks on health infrastructure in just the first month of the conflict. Lack of access to safe water and critical healthcare, and the potential for a surge in vaccine-preventable diseases like COVID-19 and polio may significantly exacerbate the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Mesfin Teklu Tessema, Senior Director of Health at the International Rescue Committee said: 

“In Ukraine, the impact on healthcare in just the first month of the conflict has been colossal and, as we have seen in other ongoing conflicts, is likely to worsen with the most vulnerable paying the steepest price. In long-running conflicts, access to basic health services is often limited and may even become non-existent. As a result, people with chronic conditions, emerging conditions or who are injured by the conflict itself will not be able to reach the medical care they need. Our experience in places like Syria demonstrates that protracted conflict and systemic attacks on health infrastructure can cause healthcare professionals to leave the country, resulting in further strains on the system and lack of access to care for those that need it most. 

“The impacts of the conflict in Ukraine on maternal and infant health are already pronounced. More than 4,300 babies have been born in Ukraine since the conflict began and 80,000 births are expected in the next three months. As Ukraine’s health system continues to collapse, the risk to new mothers and babies will grow.

“Just a week before the conflict escalated, Ukraine recorded its highest ever number of COVID-19 cases. With less than 40% of the population vaccinated against COVID-19, people becoming displaced in crowded reception centers and bunkers are at risk. Ukraine was also experiencing a polio outbreak and the escalation of conflict disrupted a vaccination campaign in the impacted region.  In some areas most affected by the conflict, including Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, polio vaccination rates are below 50%. 

“Ukraine also struggles with high-rates of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB). The conflict has weakened people’s ability to manage their condition, limited access to lifesaving drugs, and forced the closure of clinics that people rely on for care, sparking fears of spread. The IRC is worried about these and other infectious diseases spreading as the conflict persists and water, sanitation and hygiene systems continue to become damaged.” 

Attacks on healthcare facilities constitute a grave breach of international humanitarian law and the IRC calls on all parties to uphold their legal obligations. The IRC additionally calls for the protection of healthcare access in Ukraine by ensuring the safety of providers and the free flow of medical supplies and equipment. Global leaders must prioritize support to the most vulnerable, including women, children and the elderly. 

The IRC is working with partners in Ukraine to provide evacuation services to people trapped by the conflict and deliver essential items to those forced to flee, including blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes, and cash assistance. In Poland, the IRC is working with partners to provide critical information through an existing hotline, offering legal counseling and psychological support to people dealing with trauma. The IRC is also working to help people displaced by the conflict access essential services through social workers, interpreters and cultural assistants. 

 

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.