Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, Doctor Mike Ryan, Head of WHO Emergencies Programme, warned an outbreak could spell disaster for those involved and those fleeing the conflict. He said:
“The conditions we see in Ukraine are the worst possible ingredients for the amplification and the spread of infectious disease.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Covid, doesn’t matter if it’s polio, doesn’t matter if it’s measles, doesn’t matter if it’s cholera.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Covid, doesn’t matter if it’s polio, doesn’t matter if it’s measles, doesn’t matter if it’s cholera.
“You put that many people in desperation on the move, women and children packed together in basements, people stressed, people not eating, not sleeping, these are the conditions in which immune systems are weak, people’s defences are low and infectious diseases can rip through populations like this
He added that an outbreak of infectious diseases is “one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse”.
This conflict is playing out in what is still a somewhat precarious time with the coronavirus pandemic and only 34 percent of Ukraine’s population are fully vaccinated.
Furthermore, none of the countries surrounding Ukraine, excluding Hungary, have fully vaccinated more than 60 percent of their populations.
The WHO have declared the need for a ceasefire and for peace in order to prevent this health crisis worsening as reports emerge of ‘covid cough’ and other ailments in bunkers and other areas where Ukrainians find themselves hiding.
During the press conference Director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed: “So far, WHO has verified 18 attacks on health facilities, health workers and ambulances, including 10 deaths and 16 injuries.”
Dr Ryan said: “It is the violence, and it is the conflict that is driving this health crisis. And this health crisis will not stop, it will only get worse, unless we have ceasefire, unless we have peace and Tedros said that quite clearly.”
Shortly after the press briefing was brought to a close, reports announced that a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol had been hit by a Russian air strike during an agreed ceasefire.
In Ukraine 1,000 healthcare facilities including hospitals are either on the front lines or within ten kilometres.
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, children are amongst those trapped under the wreckage in what he has called a war crime.
No deaths have been confirmed but the Governor of Donetsk region said the number of injured stands at 17 including women in labour.
Since the beginning of the conflict, maternity wards have been reported to be in disarray after scores of women have gone into labour, many prematurely due to stress and panic.
The health crisis felt in Ukraine is set to worsen as reports suggest that the country is low on oxygen, children’s vaccinations, insulin, blood products, HIV medicines and surgical and protective items.
Cancer treatments have also been severely impacted by the conflict.
Dr Ryan stated: “Some hospitals are being abandoned by the authorities because they simply cannot function and there is an attempt to move hospital equipment and doctors and nurses around” in what he calls “an extremely complex health response.”
The WHO said that the supply of these lacking essentials is of top priority, but Dr Ryan added in his statement that the current response to the health crisis “is putting bandages on mortal wounds right now and I think the world has to wake up to that as a reality.”
Michel Kazatchkine former UNAIDS special envoy spoke to Channel 4 News: “the number of places that have very limited stocks now, the problem is not to bring medicines into Ukraine.
“The problem is to deliver those medicines inside the country to where they are needed as moving around in the country is becoming more and more difficult.”